Conway’s Lady Cats salvaged a measure of dignity for the 7A Central Conference Thursday with a three-set victory over Springdale Har-Ber in the quarterfinals of the 7A state volleyball tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena.
The Lady Cats (20-3), who drew a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed from the Central, trailed only once in the match but never had it easy on the way to 25-19, 25-21, 25-18 victory. In earlier matches, five of the six teams from 7A Central had been eliminated by West teams, most in routine fashion.
The Lady Cats will meet Bentonville, the second seed from the West, in Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. Fayetteville will play Fort Smith Southside in the other semifinal at 4 p.m.
One of the keys was a strong frontline effort, led by McCall Wilkins and Alexus Clardy, who dominated the net.
"Going in, we knew they (the Wildcats) had a strong middle so we knew we had to shut that down and Wilkins and Clardy did that," said Andrea Fournier, the Lady Cats’ assistant coach who is directing the team while head coach Laura Crow is on maternity leave. "Our defense was awesome; they would not allow much past them on the back end."
Wilkins had five kills and four blocks while Julia Pettit served two aces.
That set things up for outside hitters Sara Stovall and Madison Dayer to blast away. Stovall had 11 kills while Dayer had nine and no errors. She added 11 digs. "That many kills and no errors is a phenomenal effort," Fournier said.
Ferrin Macon, another steady player at the net, had 25 assists and five blocks. Setter Molly Shipp was steady along the back line.
"As far as hustle and defensive effort, this was one of our better games," said Har-Ber coach Sandy Jones, whose team was the fourth-place finisher from the West. "They (the Lady Cats) just had strength all over the court."
Conway maintained a steady lead wire to wire in taking the first set. The Lady Cats ran off five straight points in the second set to take a 19-11 lead before the Wildcats pulled within 21-20 on six straight points of their own. Elizabeth Early came from her middle blocker position for a solid hit to put Conway up 23-20 as the Lady Cats pulled away for the win.
The third set was the most fiercely fought as neither team had more than a three-point edge. The Wildcats took a 15-13 lead, but the Lady Cats regained the lead at 16-15 on a service ace from Macon. With the score tied at 16, Har-Ber gave away a point with a serve into the net. That gave the Lady Cats momentum and Har-Ber never recovered from the unforced error.
The winners of Thursday’s semifinals will move on to Saturday’s Day of Champions with championship matches in all classifications at Buzz Bolding Arena. The 7A title game is set for 7 p.m.