BRYANT – After problems with inconsistency last season, the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team might have things figured out this year. The Lady Hornets finished last season second to volleyball powerhouse Conway in the 7A Central Conferencelast year, and was up 2-0 against Fort Smith Southside in the first two sets in the second round of the State Tournament before inconsistency set in again and the Lady Hornets lost the next three sets and the match to end their season.
Though the Lady Hornets, which were 12-6 overall and 10-4 in conference last year, ended the last season in heart-breaking style, Bryant Coach Beth Solomon said the team is on the right track to begin the year.
“We've had a good season,” Solomon said of the Lady Hornets playing in volleyball camps over the summer. “Exciting things for this season. So far they're playing good together. One thing that helps with that is I've got a group of seniors that have been playing together for three years.
“This is definitely the first year, especially at this time of the year, that I've seen them play together on the court. I don't know that I've ever actually seen them play the way they've been playing, like at the camp in Rogers. They were one unit on the court. They got it in their heads that they were going to back each other up and they were going to help each other and they were going to get it done; and they did.”
The Lady Hornets dominated the Rogers-Heritage camp, the last camp before the season starts, going undefeated with a 10-0 record.
“We were the team to watch,” Solomon said. “Coaches said our team looked intimidating.”
That intimidating varsity team consists of senior twin sisters, starting setter Hannah and hitter McKenzie Rice, seniors Alyssa Anderson, Brooke Howell, Rochelle Aguilar, Courtney Davidson, Britten Hays and Kaylon Wilson.
“This group of seniors I have now,” Solomon began, “that's all that I feel like they've done, they've just gotten better and better. The twins are back. We have Alyssa in middle, Brooke Howell's back. She's (Howell) hitting better than she ever has. She's hitting just as hard if not harder than she did last year.
“Courtney Davidson is back as far as varsity is going. Last year during the summer she got hurt so she wasn't playing very much varsity. She was still kind of rehabbing. She's back this year as our other middle. Britten Hays has really stepped up as far as her back-row play; Kaylon Wilson the same with the front row. They're kind of in and out, but I could easily have either one of them go all the way around [the court] if I wanted to.”
Though the Lady Hornets have the majority of their team back, Bryant did lose key players to graduation. Front row player Brianna “Bree” White, who is currently playing with the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, and libero (defensive specialist) Lauren Reed were starters, and Taylor West and Peyton Thacker were backups who saw solid playing time.
“Rochelle Aguilar is going to be our libero this year,” Solomon said. “She's got some pretty big shoes to fill when we lost Lauren Reed.
“She's done it,” Solomon said of Aguilar filling those shoes. “We've changed up our defense a little bit as far as where they are whenever they're covering and they like it and it seems to be working. She's really stepped it up and I think she's going to be really successful at it."
The Lady Hornets lost a lot on defense with the loss of White in the middle, but Solomon said Anderson will fill in nicely for the departed White.
“We lost Bree, our big middle,” Solomon said. “We knew that was going to be hard just because of her ability to get up in the air and get a touch on almost every ball.
“But from what I've seen, I'm excited. I'm excited that Alyssa Anderson is going to get seen this year. Alyssa is a very smart player. She's just as good as Bree was; she doesn't have quite the vertical, but she is extremely smart on the court and that's one thing that will be really beneficial for us.”
Though experience and cohesion will be assets this season, the Lady Hornets still have phases of the game which still need some work.
“We're working on serve-receive,” Solomon said. “The girls know that's my pet peeve. I hate being under 80 percent. It drives me insane. We're still working on being more accurate with our hitting, going around the blocks, closing our blocks, especially with our younger [players].
“We've got to work some on our serves a little bit. We're missing too many serves. It's a bad thing we're missing serves, but the reason why is they're being so aggressive on their serves. It's not the crazy missed serves. They are hard-hit serves.”
The Lady Hornets also have a bit of adjustment this season as a realignment of conferences now has Bryant in the 7A/6A South with rival Benton. Though there is a little drop in competition from the 7A Central, Solomon said it won’t be a cakewalk.
“We're still going to have schools like Benton, Lake Hamilton and Sheridan,” she said. “Benton has beaten us every time we've played them. We're still going to have some competition, but it's not going to be the same as it was.”
With the drop, Solomon made sure to schedule some of the top teams in the state as the Lady Hornets will take on former conference foes Van Buren and Conway early in the season and will see strong competition in the Spikefest Tournament, Lady Cyclone Tournament and the Lady Cat Tournament.
“We will still see that higher level,” Solomon said.
Solomon also said expectations are high for the Lady Hornets and the goal is to win the 6A South, which Benton won last season, before the State Tournament.”
“This year when we go to the state tournament, I fully expect to be there,” Solomon said. “We're going to be seeded in with Fayetteville, Bentonville and them, which is actually a plus for us because we'll be in with them playing against the Central Conference that we're used to seeing. I feel like it's our year if there's been one. I have real high expectations for the year and so do the girls.”
The Lady Hornets begin the season at the Benton Jamboree (benefit) at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday before opening the regular season against Van Buren in Russellville on Tuesday at 5 p.m.View more articles in: