Tuesday, August 30, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot second at Spikefest

Leader sports editor

Opening week of the season was roller coaster ride for the Cabot volleyball team, but the Lady Panthers ended it with a terrific performance on Saturday. Cabot won six-straight matches to advance to the championship game of the Spikefest Tournament, where it lost a hard-fought match to defending tournament and Class 5A state champion Valley View.

Spikefest is the premier mid-season tournament in central Arkansas, and Saturday was the first time for Cabot to advance to the championship round.

“We played great Saturday,” said Cabot coach Kham Chanthaphasouk. “Passing was good. The setters did a really good job of pushing the ball out towards the antennas, and the hitters finished for us.”

Saturday’s 6-1 performance came just two days after a disappointing and shocking 3-0 loss to Batesville at home, which followed a 3-1 win over Benton on Tuesday in the season opener.

“We didn’t play well in the jamboree we went to (in preseason) then we did a lot better against Benton,” Chanthaphasouk said. “Then against Batesville, we just weren’t very good at all. We didn’t do hardly anything right. We really had a serious team meeting after that match. So I’m pleased with how they responded to that. Saturday was great. They did the things we’ve been asking them to do and working on.”

The tournament format was best 2 of 3, and Valley View won the championship match 25-22 and 25-19, but not without a struggle. Cabot led 22-21 in game one before Valley View called timeout and then scored four-straight points for the win.

Cabot played from behind most of game two, but the head coach thinks fatigue was a likely factor in the late fade.

“There’s no doubt we were exhausted,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We played a very close and intense match with Benton in the semifinals. Valley View had been finished for about 45 minutes, while we had to turn right around and play them as soon as we beat Benton. All of a sudden in game two against Valley View, we were slow to our spots and not getting in position again, but I think the exhaustion was part of that.”

Cabot opened the tournament by winning three games in pool play, all in straight sets. The Lady Panthers beat Morrilton 25-14 and 25-12 to start the tournament. Texarkana, Texas was dispatched 25-20 and 25-14, and Cabot beat Wynne 25-21 and 25-9.

That put Cabot in the Gold bracket, the upper echelon of three levels of bracket play. There it met Van Buren in the first round, and suffered its first minor letdown in game two. After hammering the Pointers 25-14 in game one, Cabot dropped game two 25-23. That forced a race to 15 in game three, where Cabot again won easily, 15-8.

One of the tournament’s most dramatic moments came in game two of Cabot’s semifinal win over Bryant. The Lady Panthers won game one 25-20, but Bryant had a 24-18 lead and six set points in game two when Chanthaphasouk called timeout.

After the break, Cabot got a sideout, and Kaelee Simmons served seven-consecutive points, including two aces and a service winner for the 26-24 Cabot victory.

That put the Lady Panthers into a rematch with their namesakes in the semifinal, and Benton looked much better than in its match at Cabot the previous Tuesday.

“I really didn’t think they played that well when we played them at our gym,” Chanthaphasouk said of Benton. “They were much more fundamentally sound on Saturday, and we had to be very good to beat them.”

Every game was by the minimum two-point margin. Benton won game one 25-23 and Cabot reversed that in game two. Cabot then took game three 15-13.

In the championship game, besides his team being tired, Chanthaphasouk said Valley View’s defense was a big key.

“Their defensive specialists were outstanding,” said the Cabot coach. “I think our hitting is as good as anybody’s. Maddie Brown is one of the best in the state. She and Taylor Bell were doing a great job the whole tournament. But they were digging everything. It’s just a very good team.”

Valley View beat tournament host Mount St. Mary to get into the championship game, and that’s who Cabot (7-2) will face in the conference opener on Thursday at Panther Arena.

“They’re very good to have gone as far as they did in the tournament,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We played them in team camps over the summer and they were always very competitive matches.”