After receiving a bye for the first round of the 7A Volleyball State Tournament because of their No. 2 seed, the Bryant Lady Hornets lost to the No. 3 seed Fort Smith Southside Confederettes 3-2 (25-21, 25-21, 21-25, 8-25, 12-15) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon. The tournament was held at Buzz Bolding Arena in Conway and the Lady Hornets were up 2-0 before losing three consecutive games to be eliminated.
“The girls were ready to play,” Bryant Coach Beth Solomon said about the Lady Hornets good start. “I don’t know if that third game we thought we had it won because we already won two, or we just let that call make the difference in the game.”
“That was an improbable comeback, I know that for sure,” Southside Coach Steve Haaser said. “Bryant played great. I’m proud of our girls for fighting back and we had to raise our game another level to match the way they [Bryant was] playing and we were able to do that.”
The call in question Solomon was talking about was a double call and it came in the third game with the Hornets leading 11-10. A Southside player hit the ball and a Bryant player tipped it for a block and bumped it to keep it in play. A Confederette player eventually hit it in the net to put Bryant up 12-10, but Haaser questioned the call and the referees eventually reversed the call to tie the game 11-11. The reversed call broke a 4-0 Lady Hornets’ run.
“That was a game-changer,” Solomon said about the call. “The way I understand the rule, is you can block and hit it again. I felt like our girls should have used that as a turning point for us to start playing a little bit harder and I don’t think we did. I think we let it change us in a negative way.”
Bryant (12-6, 10-4 Central) would score the next three points with the help of two McKenzie Rice kills to make it 14-11, but Southside stepped up its defense and went on a 14-7 run to close the game out for a four-point win.
The Lady Hornets didn’t show up the fourth game getting down 5-0 early on their way to a 17-point loss. The Confederettes scored eight in a row during a 20-6 run to end the game.
“Obviously the fourth game, we couldn’t even get things going,” Solomon said. “Not our best showing by any means. Fifth game we didn’t get it done.”
The fifth and deciding game was nip-and-tuck the whole way and Bryant was up 10-8 after a Hannah Rice kill, but Southside went on a 4-0 run and controlled the game the rest of the way winning by three. Southside junior Kylie Ballard made an outstanding dig to keep the rally alive that resulted in the Confederettes point to make it 11-14.
“We started playing a lot better defense and digs,” Haaser said. “We made some fantastic digs. [Ballard] had some big ones; some big digs at critical times kind of swung the game in our favor.”
“Whenever volleyball started being rally score, it really became all about momentum,” Solomon said. “We knew that fifth game was going to be about who had the most momentum going into it and you could see the momentum shift several different times and unfortunately for us, it didn’t shift in our favor at the end.”
Bryant got off to a quick start in the first game getting up 12-3 after a Brianna White kill and a Southside error. A McKenzie Rice kill put the Lady Hornets up 20-8, but the Confederettes went on an 11-3 run including seven in a row to make it a 23-19 Bryant lead. White made a kill to stop the bleeding and Southside eventually served it in the net for the loss.
Southside struggled with serve-receive the first two games, but were up 5-3 in the second game before Bryant went on a 10-3 run, including six in a row, that saw a McKenzie Rice kill, an Alyssa Anderson ace, two Hannah Rice kills and a White kill to cap the run.
It was back and forth the rest of the game, but the Lady Hornets’ big lead allowed them to come away with the victory to go up 2-0 in the match, before losing the last three games.
“We were kind of picking on their libero (defensive specialist) a little bit because she was kind of off and I think that third game she really started to pick it up,” Solomon said. “We were still trying to pick on her and it wasn’t working like the first two games.
“We struggled,” Haaser said about the first two games. “Most of our problems early is what they were doing. To our girls credit, they were able to fight back.”
The loss ends the Lady Hornets season, a year where they finished second in the 7A Central conference. It was Bryant’s highest finish in the past seven years, the time Solomon has been coaching in some capacity at Bryant.
Junior McKenzie Rice led the Lady Hornets with 14 kills for the match, and twin sister Hannah had 30 assists and 18 digs for the team lead to go along with nine kills and four blocks. Junior Brooke Howell had 10 kills and senior Brianna White added nine kills and six blocks. Junior Alyssa Anderson had five blocks, three kills and two aces. Senior Lauren Reed had 14 digs and McKenzie Rice and senior Taylor West had 12 digs apiece.