HOT SPRINGS --Sophomore Zoie Benton came up big late with 13 of her 17 kills in the final two sets to help Greenwood outlast Jonesboro 3-1 (19-25, 25-22, 27-25, 25-20) to claim the Class 6A state volleyball title Saturday evening at Bank of Ozarks Arena.
The Lady Bulldogs (32-7) battled from behind most of the third set, but coach Jennifer Golden said her team held tough, despite trailing much of the third set.
"It was time outs, it was girls you gotta work, you gotta fight," Golden said she told her team. "One of our biggest things this tournament was who are you playing for? Are you playing for yourself or are you playing for that person on the court other than yourself? And we reminded each other of that and I think that had a lot to do with that comeback in the third set."
Greenwood used a balanced attack combined with a stout defense led by senior libero Lexie Castillow, who contributed an incredible 50 digs. Tournament most valuable player Carrie Ciesla pitched in a double-double with 11 kills and 25 assists, while Camryn Presley added 12 kills and junior Lilliah Pugh was big at the net with seven blocks.
"We've said all year we can't single out one player," Golden said. "My defense all around is amazing. Lexie has been a force for us the last three years.
Golden also acknowledged the match turned when Jonesboro outside hitter Clara Parker left the match with a calf strain in the final set. The 5-foot-10 sophomore finished with a match-high 23 kills.
"It was huge," Golden said. "It played a big part. My kids jumped on that and they took advantage."
Shiloh Christian claims second title
Shiloh Christian coach Nathan Bodenstein talked all season about the lack of experience on his team and it showed early in the Class 4A state final
However, the Lady Saints regrouped after dropping the first set to claim a 3-1 (15-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-23) win over Baptist Prep.
"Our inexperience just showed, the bright lights, the arena, just being in the state finals," said Bodenstein, who had just one senior that saw action in the finals. "They just kind of lost their minds for a little bit.
"I told them this is a defining set, if you can just go and just forget about that first set, just be done with it. Volleyball's a great sport like that. It's very forgiving. You can do really bad in one set and then go and still win it. They proved it right there."
Shiloh Christian (25-13) picked up the defensive intensity and 5-10 junior Lexi Richards got going offensively. The Lady Saints scored the final four points of the third set, then rolled to a 20-10 lead in the fourth before holding off a furious Baptist Prep rally to win the program's second state title.
Richards, who was named the tournament most valuable player, put together a big match with 32 kills and 15 digs. She had nine kills in the second set alone to get Shiloh Christian's offense clicking. But the defense is what rose to the occasion to slow down a solid Baptist Prep (28-6) attack.
Five different Shiloh Christian players registered double digits in the digs led by senior libero Taylor Larson with 23. Junior setter Hattie McDonald also put up a double-double with 17 assists and 19 digs. Bodenstein also praised the way McDonald shook off some early struggles.
"She got in there and had some game-defining digs in that third set," Bodenstein said. "I was proud of how she bounced back. I was in her ear a lot in the beginning."
Shiloh Christian bounced back after losing in the finals of its conference tournament to Berryville, but came back strong in the state tournament, Bodenstein said.
"I tell them in practice, 'I challenge you all the time and that's why,'" Bodenstein said. "I was so proud of them. We could have folded after that loss to Berryville and had a really bad end of the year."
Baptist Prep coach Krista Spoon said his team's execution was off at times, but credited Shiloh Christian's defense as the Lady Eagles had their 23-match winning streak snapped.
"They had great defense and they got the ball back over the net and kept us having to play the point longer and they just won most of those big long rallies," said Spoon, whose team won its first state tournament match in school history this year.
Paris makes it three straight titles
Paris overcame some early nervousness to claim its third consecutive state title.
Junior outside hitter Ryleigh Hardwicke made 16 kills as the Lady Eagles defeated Hoxie 3-0 for the Class 3A title. Paris won 27-25, 25-11, 25-13.
Paris (35-2) trailed 22-19 in the first game and survived one game point before taking control of the match.
"We really had the jitters for a group that's been here," said Paris coach Wes Davis, whose team committed four service errors in the first game but only one in the final two games. "It shocked me the way we came out but we recovered from it."
Senior libero Jenna Lowery, who finished with a game-high three aces and 16 digs, said the team's experience in the state championship match played a difference.
"I think it was all nerves," said Lowery, who was named the tournament's MVP. "Once we started playing our game, settled in and got comfortable, we got going."
"When she's serving, we've got a good rotation in there," said Davis, whose team has played for the championship in all four years that the state finals have been played in Hot Springs. "We're going to go to Hardwicke a lot out of that. We're going to feed her because she can put the ball down. She had a great game too."
Hardwicke, a 5-10 outside hitter, picked up seven of her kills in the first game. The remainder of the Lady Eagles' hitter picked up some slack in the final two games. Senior middle blocker Brynn Simmons collected all nine of her kills in the final two games.
Senior Riley Owen led Paris in assists with 40.
Sydney Gillham, a 6-0 senior middle blocker, led Hoxie with eight kills and two blocks. Junior middle blocker Kaitlin Henson added five kills and junior Mackenzie Orrick led the Lady Mustangs (24-4) in aces with two.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Tim Cooper contributed to this report.
Sports on 10/29/2017
Print Headline: Greenwood shakes off first-set loss to claim 6A title