Saturday, October 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Lady Falcons take charge

By Jason King
Leader sportswriter

The addition of new teams from the 5A-West and 5A-East Conferences into the 5A-Southeast has not only put an end to Sylvan Hills’ regular-season domination, it is threatening the Lady Bears’ chances of qualifying for the 5A state volleyball tournament.

The Lady Bears (3-7, 2-5) suffered another setback Tuesday as cross-county rival North Pulaski took a 3-1 victory. The Lady Falcons (6-6, 3-4) let an early lead slip away in the first game and lost 25-27 but they swept the final three games 27-25, 28-26 and 25-21 for their first victory over Sylvan Hills in more than eight years.

“We wanted that game really bad,” North Pulaski coach Doug Belcher said. “We’ve got five or six seniors on our team, and Sylvan Hills has always been North Pulaski’s rival, so it was probably their last chance. Over the past few years, we’ve always come out on the bottom, so we were just glad to even it up with them this year.”

North Pulaski had the advantage at the net most of the night and helped itself at the service line, while Sylvan Hills struggled with its service game in spots. The Lady Bears got off to strong starts in Games 2 and 3 only to watch the Lady Falcons rally both times.

“We really played well,” Sylvan Hills coach Harold Treadway said. “I was proud of the girls. We missed a lot of serves, and I would just attribute that to trying to put the ball in play and trying to do things. I have no problem with the effort they gave tonight.”

Sylvan Hills fought to stay alive in the fourth game, but the Lady Falcons took five of the final six points. Senior Kaylee Belcher’s block gave North Pulaski a 22-20 lead, followed by an ace from reserve Erika Shrunk and a kill by Breanna Willis to give the Lady Falcons match point.

The Lady Bears volleyed into the net on the final point.

“This is a good team; the game scores were close,” Treadway said. “We can’t remember the last time they beat us; it’s been awhile. All of our matches have been close; nobody’s just blown the other away. They’ve got some good players.”

North Pulaski jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first game before seniors Ashley Johnson and Torletha Lewis rallied the Lady Bears. They tied the game at 17 before a North Pulaski lineup violation gave them their first lead.

Shala Clemons got the lead back for the Lady Falcons with a pair of kills that made it 23-21, and an out play by Sylvan Hills gave North Pulaski game point.

The Lady Bears’ Ann Smith cut the deficit to two with a kill and Johnson made it 24-23 with a cross-court kill before an ace by Tiffany Squires tied the game.

The Lady Falcons survived Sylvan Hills’ first game point before junior Mallory Rushin finally won the game with an ace.

Junior Stevie Hughes led the way for the Lady Falcons in Game 2 with four kills and a crucial block that helped North Pulaski come back from an early 4-1 deficit. Clemons and Belcher combined in the third game as Clemons got several shots from the left side off sets by Belcher, and sophomore Shelby Floyd helped bring it home for the Lady Falcons in the final game with a pair of early kills that gave North Pulaski momentum.

With former 5A-West schools Little Rock Christian, Vilonia and Central Arkansas Christian now in the 5A-Southeast for volleyball with former 5A-East team Batesville, teams that were not in the league a year ago now hold the top four spots.

“This conference for us this year is just way tough,” Belcher said. “There’s a lot of club teams; a lot of girls who have played together for years and played club ball in the offseason. Those teams are hard to beat.”

Treadway is also feeling the pressure of the new competition level and would like to see his players getting off-season experience in organizations like the Junior Olympics.

“We’ve got to up our level of play,” Treadway said. “We can’t sit back and start in August. I’ve got to have some girls that are playing J.O., I’ve got to have some girls to put the ball in their hands other than August through November, and I’m trying to work on that.”

North Pulaski finished with 37 kills, led by Hughes with 12 and Clemons with 10. Hughes also led in blocks with four.

Willis and Floyd each had five kills. Belcher led the Lady Falcons in aces with five of their 14.

The Lady Bears had 28 kills, 10 from Johnson, who also led with four blocks. Smith, Lewis, Rushin and Amanda Vanderlugt all had four kills each.

Sylvan Hills had 11 aces and Vanderlugt had a team-high three.