Saturday, October 24, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe completes 5A-Central sweep

Leader sports editor

The Beebe volleyball team is the outright, undefeated conference champion for the first time in school history. The Lady Badgers completed that task Tuesday on senior night at Badgers Arena with a victory over North Pulaski. The Lady Falcons, however, didn’t make things as easy for the league champs as they had been most of the season.

North Pulaski beat Beebe in game two, handing the Lady Badgers their first set loss in 5A-Central play all season.

The home team regrouped and dominated the rest of the action. Scores in the match were 25-19, 20-25, 25-13 and 25-13. The historical accomplishment is one this year’s seniors are proud of. Beebe has only had a volleyball program for 12 years, and it was not a respected program when this year’s seniors began playing.

“It feels great,” said senior libero Paige Smith. “When you start in seventh grade, you hear all these people talking like Beebe volleyball sucks. So you’re like, I’m going to fix it. I’m going to do it. So the fact that we have, it’s great.”

Losing the first and only set in 12 conference matches was disappointing, but didn’t put much of a damper on the bigger achievement or the festivities of senior night.

“Oh, it made me so mad,” Smith said of losing game two. “But you just have to work through it. This team has been really good about overcoming things. Our team chemistry this year has been like none other. I love all these girls.”

One of Beebe’s key strengths is depth, and it played a role in Tuesday’s win. Senior Gracie Rymel was the go-to hitter in game one. She put down five kills as Beebe began opening a small lead early in the game.

North Pulaski senior Kiarra Evans dominated game two. Beebe fell behind largely because of a series of poor serves and unforced errors, but Evans helped make a comeback impossible. NP’s lead grew to five points at 11-6 and stayed between three and six points all the way to 20-15.

On one point, Evans blocked three Beebe hits and finished the point with a kill just barely outside of Beebe’s attack line. Badger coach Ashley Camp called timeout at 20-15 after an Evans kill went long. Beebe’s next serve went long and NP’s Payton Mullen made it 22-15 with an ace.

Beebe broke serve and Smith served up two aces to pull within 23-18, but the two teams traded side outs after that, with another Evans kill ending the game.

Beebe opened up a lead in game three on junior Kayla Green’s serve. It was senior Jerra Malone that took over for Beebe in the third game. She picked up four of her eight total kills, including a service break that made it 23-13. She then took serve and scored on a kill by junior Abby Smith. For game point, Malone served up an ace in the middle of NP’s defense.

Sophomore Lanie Wolfe became a factor in game four as Beebe blew it open around the midway point. Senior setter Sarah Clark took serve at 12-7, and served all the way to 22-8. She dropped three aces on the Lady Falcons while Wolfe got two of her four kills in the match during the run.

Rymel led Beebe with nine kills while Malone had eight. Abby Smith finished with six. Clark had 25 assists and 16 points on serve. Evans had a match-high 15 kills and six blocks, while Mullen had seven kills for NP.

Beebe (24-6, 14-0) added a nonconference sweep of Harding Academy on Thursday to close regular-season play. Scores in that match were 25-19, 25-15 and 25-12. They will face Greenbrier (17-9, 8-6), the fourth-place team from the 5A-West, in the first round of the state tournament at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Jonesboro.

Beebe took the No. 1 seed into the state tournament last year after tying for the league title with Pulaski Academy and owning the tiebreaker. They lost to East four seed Batesville, however, in straight sets. But it’s failures, according to Malone, that drive this team.

“It makes me work even harder,” said Malone. “We want to do better than last year, I know that. We have to talk. We have to cover. We’re going to give it the best we can, lay out for every ball, just give it all.”

North Pulaski (11-12, 7-5) tied for third place with Sylvan Hills but lost the tiebreaker, so it will take the four seed into the state tournament and face West champion Harrison in the first round.