Championships, lots of them, and transition defined sports in Faulkner County in 2010.
Conway High’s boys won a long-anticipated state basketball championship. Three other high school teams (Conway Christian in girls basketball, Greenbrier in softball and St. Joseph in girls soccer) won state titles. Several others came close. Central Baptist College’s softball team won a national title with one of the most successful seasons in state history, any level, any sport. The University of Central volleyball team continued its amazing run as a Division I member with an overall Southland Conference championship.
Almost every school in the county — UCA, Hendrix, CBC, Conway, Greenbrier, Vilonia, Conway Christian, Guy-Perkins, Mount Vernon-Enola claimed some kind of title (conference, regional, state, national) in some sport.
Plenty — and the developments were figuratively as earth-shaking as the natural rumblings in the northern part of the county.
Razorback legend Corliss Williamson was a stunning replacement for the fired Rand Chappell for the UCA men’s program. Buzz Bolding, who defined the modern Conway athletic program, retired and Steve Daniels replaced him. Dan Priest left as head of the Hendrix men’s basketball program and his former assistant Thad McCracken, who led the Hendrix women to a division title, replaced him. Emily Cummins came from an assistant’s post at LaGrange College in Georgia to replace McCracken. Janet Taylor retired as girls basketball coach at Conway High and Ashley Nance moved from Conway Christian to take over that program. Former UCA women’s assistant Jeremy Carson replaced Nance.
And there was movement in other ways. UCA became an official member of NCAA Division I. CBC became an official NAIA member, added wrestling and joined a new conference.
It was a productive, busy and amazing year across the board in several different sports. Reducing the developments to a top 10 was almost impossible. The staff at the Log Cabin picked 10 but there is overflow that will be noted.
1. CORLISS WILLIAMSON BECOMES A BEAR: This story just missed making the top-10 news event in our online vote. It was one of the most eye-popping developments in the state. After Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, fired Rand Chappell after seven seasons, he had several quality applicants, many of them Division I assistants in major conferences. In one of the boldest moves ever made by a UCA administrator, he hired Williamson, who was serving as head coach at tiny Arkansas Baptist and had no head coaching experience. But he had winning experience. The former Russellville High School star was part of championship teams at the University of Arkansas (1994) and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons (2004).
“I wasn’t looking for a name; I was looking for a coach,” said Teague, who thinks he got both. It certainly created an excitement in UCA basketball not seen in years. The Bears closed the year by giving the University of Oklahoma a scare in a three-point defeat.
2. WAMPUS CATS WIN STATE TITLE: The Conway boys basketball team, state runner-up the year before, began the season ranked at the top in the state and stayed there, going undefeated in the tough 7A Central and winning the school’s first boys basketball title since 1976. The Cats’ Preston Purifoy, who signed with Alabama-Birmingham, was named the tournament MVP.
3. CBC SURGES TO NATIONAL TITLE: The Lady Mustangs became the most successful softball program in state history, any level, as they blitzed to the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship, winning 45 straight games along the way (among them schools from the NAIA, NCAA Division I, II and III) and going undefeated in the national tournament. They finished 52-1, marking a rare time, if any, a state athletic team on any level has won more than 50 games in a season.
4. UCA ACHIEVES FULL NCAA DIVISION I STATUS: It was the culmination of a five-year process that included many reports, hoops to jump though, technicalities and paperwork. It means that all UCA teams are now eligible for postseason competition and NCAA championships, plus the revenue from the Southland Conference from television contracts. UCA, with the input and efforts of many (and not just in the athletic department) passed every test with flying colors.
5. FOOTBAL RESURGENCE AT CONWAY AND GREENBRIER: All Faulkner County teams reached the state playoffs. The Wampus Cats and the Panthers became the signature teams, each ranked among the top teams in their divisions in the state all seasons and each reaching the quarterfinals in their divisions in state play. Conway’s 9-2 record marked the most successful season since the Peyton Hillis days.
6. CONWAY CHRISTIAN/ST. JOSEPH BASKETBALL: The two county rivals had an intense series of five basketball games and alternating victories with CCS taking a 3-2 edge by winning the decisive match in the Class AA girls state title games. It marked a state championship for Conway Christian in its third year of Arkansas Activities Association competition. The teams split two regular-season games, then CCS won district and St. Joseph the regional on the way to the decisive showdown in Hot Springs.
7. UCA VOLLEYBALL: The Sugar Bears’ had a Southland Conference winning streak halted after 33 games over three seasons. They compiled a 28-8 record, won the outright SLC title and just missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament, losing to UTSA in the conference championship game. The Sugar Bears’ Chloe Smith won Player of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year in the SLC for an unprecedented third straight year.
8. A LEGEND RETIRES: Conway High Athletic Director Buzz Bolding, who helped build the CHS program to one of the best in the state (earning several all-sports awards) retired after four decades years in public education and 26 as AD at Conway High. Bolding, who was the point many in getting the multi-purpose arena constructed as well as a multitude of other projects, had the arena named in his honor upon his retirement. Steve Daniels, an administrator at the high school and a former assistant football coach, succeeded Bolding in what was a seamless transition.
9. ST. JOSEPH SUCCESS: St. Joseph continued its run as one of the most successful small-school overall athletic programs in the state. Among the highlights: The Lady Bulldogs won their second straight state soccer title. The Bulldogs lost in the Class A basketball semifinals. The Lady Bulldog golf team won their sixth straight state championship. The Lady Bulldogs had an undefeated season spoiled in the state volleyball title game.
10. CBC ATHLETICS: Central Baptist College continued to upgrade its athletic program by joining the NAIA and later affiliated itself with the Midlands Conference. The school became the second college in the state to add wrestling.
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS OF NOTE
Greenbrier wins a state softball championship ... UCA’s football team recovers from a losing season to post a 7-4 record, upset perennial Southland power McNeese State in its season finale and barely missed an NCAA FCS playoff berth ... The UCA Sugar Bears basketball team, in their third season under Matt Daniel, record the best improvement (15 games) in the NCAA in 2010, win 21 games and freshman Megan Herbert records the second-best consecutive string of double-doubles (23) in NCAA women’s history, any level ... Conway’s Peyton Hillis had a 1,500-plus yard season with the Cleveland Browns, establishing himself as a fantasy favorite, adored in Cleveland ... Doug Clark is dismissed as UCA baseball coach and Allen Gum, who had established a highly successful program at Southern Arkansas University, replaces him ... Thad McCracken, in his first year as women’s coach, leads Hendrix to a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference West Division women’s basketball title and the conference semifinals ... Former Conway golf star Bryce Molder has his best year as a pro and female golfers Mary Michael Maggio (LSU) and Summar Roachell continue their successful amateur careers.