Wednesday, October 26, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke rolls in first round

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke volleyball team has been a 15-year mainstay in the state tournament, but wins have been hard to come by. That changed Tuesday when the Lady Jackrabbits swept Pocahontas 3-0 in first round of the 2016 Class 4A State Tournament it is hosting.

Even though Lonoke has been in the state tournament every year since 2002, it’s the first tournament win for the Lady Jackrabbits since 2006, and the ultimate goal is three more and a state championship.

Scores in Tuesday’s win over the Lady Redskins were 25-17, 25-14 and 25-22. Lonoke’s front line was solid defensively, making life very hard for Pocahontas’ big hitters.

“Our front row was really strong,” said Lonoke coach Laura Park. “That’s been a strength of ours all year. We’ve got some tall girls up there and good jumping ability with our height. We’re a pretty athletic team so that should be a strength for us.”

Lonoke wasn’t quite as aggressive as Park would have liked, and certainly didn’t play as cleanly as it will have to in order to continue advancing through the tournament.

“We hit too many out of bounds and too many serves into the net,” Park said. “I thought we were more aggressive than we were in our loss in district finals. I thought we were way too timid in that one. We were a little better today, but not as aggressive I want us to be. So those are two things I think we can improve upon. But our goal is the same as it’s always been, and that’s to win state. We took one more step towards that goal today so overall I’m pleased.”

Lonoke scored first in every set on the court-two match. The Lady Jackrabbits relinquished the big arena floor to Berryville and Booneville, and faced Pocahontas in the old gym.

Game one was tight. Lonoke’s Lindsey McFadden took serve with the host teamleading 11-8. She served one ace, followed by a stuff block by Madelyn Sherrill and kill down the line by Keiunna Walker that made it 14-8 and forced Pocahontas to call its first timeout.

The Lady Redskins broke serve out of the timeout, The two teams traded side outs until Sherrill served four-straight for Lonoke. Walker added two more kills and Kennedy White drove home another, making the score 20-10 and forcing another timeout.

Pocahontas scored six-straight out of that break, but never got any closer. Mikayla Kirk got three-consecutive kills during the rally, but Lonoke broke before Kayla Shelton added a pair of kills down the line for a 23-16 Lonoke lead. Lonoke won game point on an unforced error.

The Lady Jackrabbits opened game two with a Walker kill right into the face of Pocahontas setter Macy Matlock and it set the tone for the entire game. Lonoke jumped out to an 11-5 advantage before Pocahontas rallied back to within one point.

Shelton took serve for Lonoke and put up four-straight points, including an ace that made it 16-10 and forced a timeout.

Again, Pocahontas (16-10) broke out of the timeout and pulled to within 16-12, but after Lonoke broke serve, White served up an ace to start another four-point rally that left Pocahontas in too large of a hole to dig out.

Lonoke took control of game three as well, but lost a handle on it late in the game. Lindsey McFadden took serve for the Lady Jackrabbits with her team leading 9-7. After a kill by Walker, and block by Sherrill and three long hits by Pocahontas, Lonoke led 14-7 and the visiting team needed another break.

The two teams traded side outs to 19-12 before Poca-hontas had its best run of the match. The Lady Redskins got two kills apiece from Kirk and Serena Crisco. Those went along with a pair of Lonoke unforced errors that made it 19-18. Pocahontas finally served long to go down 20-18, but got right back to within one on a net serve by Lonoke.

Pocahontas then served long again, and Lonoke scored two-straight for a 23-20 lead. The Lady Jackrabbits thought they had point 24 on a tip by Walker, but a net violation gave Pocahontas the point and serve trailing 23-21.

On the ensuing serve, a near ace by Pocahontas turned into a point for Lonoke. McFadden made a diving dig of the serve. The ball caromed over the net, where the Lady Redskins failed to react properly, and ended up four-balling into the net to set up match point.

It took one more side out, but Pocahontas missed its 14th serve on match point to give Lonoke the victory.

Walker and Kirk led their respective teams with 12 kills apiece. White had nine kills and six blocks for Lonoke while Shelton had seven kills for the Lady Jackrabbits. Sherrill had four kills and four blocks while Emily Armstrong led Lonoke with nine points on serve.

Shelton and Gracie Mason had eight service points each.

Serena Crisco added nine kills for Pocahontas.

The Lady Jackrabbits (35-4-1) will face defending state runners-up Mena in today’s quarterfinal. Mena (27-7) knocked Lonoke out of the 2015 state tournament last season. The Lady Bearcats, the 4A-West District champions, beat West Fork in straight sets in Tuesday’s first round. Scores in that match were 25-11, 25-19 and 25-16.