The Bentonville Lady Tigers overcame an electric atmosphere with some dynamic play Thursday in the 7A state volleyball tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena.
With a large group of supporters cheering on the Lady Cats, Bentonville overcame a shaky start to take a highly competitive 26-24, 24-20, 25-12 victory over the hosts in the semifinals.
Conway, which was undefeated in winning the 7A Central title, finished 20-4, losing to Fayetteville, Blue Spring, Mo., Nettleton and Bentonville.
Conway coach Andrea Fournier said Bentonville’s ability to adjust to the Lady Cats block was key. Conway’s front-row defense was the difference in the quarterfinal win against Springdale Har-Ber on Wednesday.
"Their outsides were very strong," Fournier said. "The first game they were hitting into our blocks quite a bit. But they started finding ways around and they hurt us. We felt like we had the momentum on our side early and as the match went on, we slowly lost it."
Juniors Sara Stovall and McCall Wilkins led Conway (20-4) with eight kills each. Wilkins, who was dominant at the net in the quarterfinals, finished with just two block assists against Bentonville.
"Being on their home court with a great crowd, any type of point they got the place lit up," Lady Tiger coach Michelle Smith said. "We knew coming in it was going to be a battle.
Senior outside hitter Shayne Wiedemann hammered a match-high 18 kills, including five late in the first set.
The Lady Tigers (31-7) will now take on 7A-West Conference rival Fayetteville in Saturday’s championship match. That match will begin at 5 p.m. and will also be played at Buzz Bolding Arena. The two teams also met for the title last season with Bentonville winning the state championship.
Conway was only one of six 7A Central members to win in the tourney
Smith said she thought nerves got the best of the Lady Tigers early, but Wiedemann helped them settle down.
"Sometimes in a semifinal match the emotions, knowing this is do-or-die sometimes gets the best of you," Smith said. "But we calmed down and started to focus and the girls took care of business.
"Shayne was all over the floor tonight," Smith said. "She took care of the front row and the back row. She had steel in her eyes. She was ready to play."
Conway jumped out front early in the opening set and carried that lead to 20-16. But that’s when Wiedemann went to work. The high-flying senior started a 7-1 Bentonville run by tipping the ball over two Conway blockers for a point. She had five kills in that run, which helped carry the Lady Tigers to victory in the opening set.
Wiedemann, who also finished with a match-high 16 digs, said she had no doubt Bentonville was going to win and she was going to do whatever it took to make that happen.
"I wasn’t going to lose for my teammates," Wiedemann said. "Even though some of them were look at me with blank looks. I was like ‘No, we’ve got this.’ We have come too far in this program to lose this game."