Saturday, November 02, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot’s future built by seniors

Leader sports editor

Volleyball in central Arkansas may be beginning to catch up to the extreme eastern and western portions of the state, where club teams and junior Olympic volleyball are prominent.

The Cabot volleyball team’s season came to an end Wednesday with a quarterfinal loss to Fort Smith Southside in the class 7A state tournament at Panther Arena. The top-ranked Confederettes won in three games by scores of 25-17, 25-16 and 25-13. But that loss followed a milestone victory for the Lady Panthers, as they got their first playoff win since 2004 by beating Bryant 3-1 in the first round. Southside went on to win its semifinal match over Fort Smith Northside by a larger margin than Cabot, and will play Bentonville at 11 a.m. today in the state championship game at Russellville.

Cabot finished the season 15-12, a record that includes three wins over two teams that are playing in their respective state championship games. The Lady Panthers beat Batesville, vying today for the class 5A state title, in their third and last regular-season matches, and split in conference play with Jonesboro, who faces Benton for the 6A championship.

That fact is not lost on Cabot coach DeAnna Campbell, who takes it as yet one more sign that her program is moving in the right direction after three years at the helm.

“We have gotten better and better,” Campbell said. “When we beat Jonesboro, we were really on a roll, and then we had some injury setbacks. But we got everyone healthy and kept improving. I think if we played tomorrow, we’d play better than we did in the last one.”

Even with the steady improvement, Cabot will be an unknown quantity next year. There were six seniors on the floor for the Lady Panthers when the last match ended, six seniors who have been the cornerstone of the building program since Campbell took over. Five are three-year lettermen, while the sixth isn’t only because she missed her junior season.

The final point of the last match was sadly poetic, as Lakin Best and Bailee Uhiren, who were two starting outside hitters as sophomores, bumped into each other after the initial pass, and let the ball drop without a return on match point. The Lady Panthers had been out of rhythm for most of game three, and Campbell knew why.

“When you’ve got six seniors on the floor, and they start to realize that it’s the end, and not just the game, but THE end of all they’ve worked to build, then they get emotional,” Campbell said. “A couple of them were already crying during the last timeout. I intentionally didn’t talk about it at all leading up to or during the tournament. Those six seniors built what we have going right now, and I knew they knew that, and I thought it would only make it worse to talk about it. For better or worse, that’s what I did. I think they played very well though.”

The Lady Panthers only have three juniors on this year’s team, which means only three seniors next year. The junior varsity team, made up entirely of sophomores, went 12-5 this year, and Campbell says the freshmen that are coming up next year are very talented.

But whatever Cabot accomplishes under Campbell in the years to come; it will all be founded on the edifice built by the seniors of 2014.