RUSSELLVILLE — For those watching in the Russellville High School gym, the 6A Volleyball State Championship match was one to remember. The Benton Lady Panthers fell 16-14 in the fifth and final set of the 6A state final to the Jonesboro Lady Hurricane on Saturday night to finish as runner-up in the state.
“It was a great game,” Benton Coach Brandy Chumley said. “If you go out with a loss, you want it to be a game like that. Hard in everything that they gave.”
“It was a marvelous volleyball match,” Jonesboro Coach Craig Cummings said, “and if it were on ESPN it would be a classic, I think.”
Panther fans were out in full force on Saturday night as the 6A match was the last of the night. The Panther student section was rooting on the Lady Panthers as they jumped out to a 9-6 lead in the final set after junior Ashlie Dintleman spiked it down for a kill assisted by junior Taylor Lindberg. Benton was down 6-5 before senior Xandra Lock had two aces during a 5-0 run.
But, unforced errors by the Lady Panthers allowed the Lady Hurricane to go ahead 10-9 helped by a double block by setter and MVP Susannah Kelley and Halen Robinson.
Benton would bounce back to take a 14-13 lead helped by two of senior Allison Reynolds kills, but a net call tied it up and Caroline Moye and Nikki Tagupa would spike down perfect sets from Kelley to take the match and the state championship.
“I wanted it for the seniors so bad,” Chumley said.
“They wanted it. Every time we came together, we said ‘believe’, and they fought hard for this. This is the best we have played all year. You can’t ask for anything more than that. They gave their hearts, they gave everything physically and mentally that they had. It’s not the end that we wanted, but at least they can hold their head up and walk off the court knowing they gave everything they had.”
Jonesboro (30-3) would take the match 21-25, 25-22, 25-19, 19-25 and 16-14.
It started off well for the Lady Panthers as they led 6-2 and 9-4 after a Dintleman block in the first set before allowing the Hurricane to come back to tie it up at 12-12. Benton responded with a 3-0 run which included a kill from Taylor Lindberg, and a Lindberg/Reynolds double block.
Benton would later finish a 5-0 run when Reynolds set up senior Stacy Cooper with a kill to take a 21-14 lead, en route to a 25-21 win.
“Fabulous volleyball,” Cummings said. “Sometimes in these state championships, the games can be one-sided to a certain extent, and to have Benton, they’re an unbelievable team, well-coached and technically sound, and to have a match go back and forth like that, it felt like we were playing ourselves in a way, because we like to think we’re very good defensively and they’re awfully good defensively. Benton is a very deserving team as well.”
But it was the second and third sets which would be the Lady Panthers’ downfall. Benton would lead 14-8 and 19-15 before allowing the Lady Hurricane back in it in the second set.
Down 21-17, Jonesboro would go on a 5-0 run to take the lead at 22-21 before taking the last three points to even the match.
Lack of aggressiveness and coverage defense allowed Jonesboro to take an 8-1 lead in the third set before Benton’s comeback, the Lady Panthers would get within 13-11, fell short. Benton would fight off Jonesboro in the fourth set to even the match back up before falling in the final.
“We quit being aggressive at the net and that’s when we had our letdown,” Chumley said.
“We were strong at the net most of the time. Defense, they played their hearts out. [Jonesboro] is a very good team and I’m proud of what we did. They’re very good, well-coached, solid team. They deserve all the success they have. I just hate the success was at our expense.”
The Lady Panthers finished 23-4 on the season, including sweeping every match and ending up 12-0 in the 7A/6A South conference.
Chumley had 29 assists, six kills and six assisted blocks for kills for the Lady Panthers in the state final. Lindberg added 20 assists, seven kills and five assisted blocks, Reynolds led the team with 18 kills and added six assisted blocks, Dintleman had nine kills and seven assisted blocks, Lock had nine kills and four aces, and Hastings had seven kills.