BRYANT – After going a combined 85-8 for a .914 winning percentage its previous three state championship-winning seasons, the Bryant Lady Hornet softball team had a bit of a setback this past year not making it to the playoffs for the first time in Coach Debbie Clark’s career. Bryant lost five more games in 2013, going 13-13 and 8-6 in the 7A/6A South conference, than it had the previous three seasons combined.
“This is hard,” Clark said. “I was looking back on my coaching career in volleyball and softball, and this is the first time I have not made the playoffs in my coaching career. This is really hard. I’ve never experienced this one.”
There is little wonder why the Lady Hornets saw some decline in losing ultimately 7 of their 9 starters from last season’s 34-0 team, including four All-State selections. But, the fact the Lady Hornets didn’t even make the state tournament is something Clark doesn’t plan on getting used to.
“We have a lot of improving to do and we have started doing that,” she said. “We have all seen a change in their level of play (for the better) from mid-season on. I just hate it that my freshmen don’t get a chance to see. I really hate it for Carly, my senior. The only consolation for her and me is we do have several rings that we can look at.
“Probably the hardest thing to swallow in all of this is we are the only 7A team that is in a conference without another 7A team. We have no chance for bonus points and I just don’t see how that is equitable.”
Teams get bonus points for beating 7A teams in conference play, but when there are no other 7A teams in your conference, it’s impossible to get those much-needed bonus points which decides a teams’ seeding in the state playoffs.
“I know some people think,” Clark started, “‘Well you’re a 7A school so you should beat everybody so you don’t need those points.’ But how do you discredit then the Sheridans, the Bentons and Lake Hamiltons? In that 7A Central conference (the conference Bryant was in last season before the Arkansas Activities Association shuffled conferences), I feel strongly we would have been second or third with enough points to get there. And we beat Rogers and Van Buren in regular play (which are both 7A teams).
“What’s sad about it is it’s so hard to explain to the kids. They’re high school students, but they still believe adults are supposed to make good decisions that go in their favor.”
But in the end, the Lady Hornets didn’t do what was needed to advance.
“We just did not play the way we needed to play,” Clark said. “We basically beat Texarkana, El Dorado, Fair and Pine Bluff – teams that are a little bit below our caliber. But we were not able to beat the better teams in our conference. So do we deserve to go? I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to process. I just have to get them (Lady Hornets) to remember how that feels. Sometimes I can’t get them to remember yesterday.”
“They were so somber in the locker room,” Clark said of her players after finding out Bryant didn’t make State. “All those girls except the freshmen have been on state championship teams. There’s a difference in going in and losing than not even going at all and you don’t have a chance.”
Clark has no doubt the Lady Hornets won’t be sitting at home during the postseason next year.
“We as coaches are going to reflect and see what we could’ve done to help us win some of those games we needed to win, and next year we’re going to win those games,” she said. “Our number one goal is to get to the state tournament. We’re not going to do this again. We’re going to figure out a way to get there, in this conference, where we don’t get bonus points.”