Saturday, March 10, 2012

SPORTS >> Seniors fulfilling dream

Leader sportswriter

Senior leadership has been the heart of this year’s Cabot Lady Panthers team.

And when Melissa Wolff, Sydney Wacker and Laci Boyett take to the floor of Summit Arena today for tipoff against Fort Smith Northside in the 7A state championship game, it will be the realization of a long-shared dream between best friends.

Wacker and Boyett were the breakout players of the Cabot South freshman team back in 2009, while Wolff and Micah Odom were the stars across town for Cabot North. But when those forces combined a year later on Carla Crowder’s varsity team, it was the foundation of a team that would go on to make three consecutive state tournament appearances, including conference runner-up last season.

They were close last year, finishing runner-up to North Little Rock in the 7A Central Conference before making the semifinal round of the state tournament at Van Buren.

It was only a year ago, but the journey they’ve been on since that time has given them experience in several areas of life.

It all started in the summer when Wolff started getting interest from the University of Arkansas after being spotted on the Arkansas Mavericks AAU team. A scholarship offer came shortly thereafter, making Cabot’s hometown hero a household name across the state.

Then came the opening of the new arena to start the 2011-12 season. The old Panther Pavilion had served as Cabot’s basketball Mecca for over 50 years, but was run down and in need of replacement. The Lady Panthers said goodbye to their old gym with a season-opening victory over Searcy before taking to the road for a number of weeks while the old gymnasium could be finished.

When they finally did make it into the plush new Panther Arena located just a few feet south of its predecessor, they marked their territory well by winning the pre-holiday tournament in dominant fashion.

In all, they went 18-0 at home for the season with 17 of those victories on their new court, with their two most recent against Springdale Har-Ber and Little Rock Hall in the 7A state tournament to punch their ticket to Spa City.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Wolff said. “God gave us a great team, and so we’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunity and finish.”

Wolff and Odom have not only played basketball together since their grade-school days but also attend the same church, and the familiarity shows on the court. The same can be said for Wacker and Boyett, who dominate opponents inside more often than not.

“We’ve all been working for it since we were little, and that’s been our goal,” Boyett said. “When I met Melissa for the first time, our dads talked about how we would win state our senior year. Ever since then, that’s been our goal.”