Finishing among the top 10 at last year's Class 6A state golf tournament has given North Little Rock's boys' and girls' Coach Brad Kilbury a reason to be optimistic about the 2020 season.
That confidence, however, was missing at the start of the year, but not because of something his teams weren't doing.
"We found out right before the season started that we were going to actually have one," Kilbury said. "We planned as if we were going to have one, but with the virus putting everything on hold, we just weren't sure if we would. When we got the official word, that's when we were confident that we'd be good to go."
The Charging Wildcats and Lady Charging Wildcats have been good so far. Kilbury said the teams have won an event and finished second in a couple of others. Still, it may take more than just being good for North Little Rock to walk away with a state championship when the Class 6A tournament begins Oct. 5-7.
North Little Rock's boys, who finished fifth last year, are loaded with experience, with seniors Liam Hogan and Seth Swain both finishing in the top 20 at the 2019 state event. For the Lady Charging Wildcats, junior MacKenzie Lee, who's a two-time Class 6A individual state champ, spearheads a team that finished sixth last season.
"She's had over 30 offers from colleges since they were able to come back out and play," Kilbury said of Lee. "We expect her to win state again and possibly the overall tournament, too. For just our conference, though, it's kind of wide open.".
Things have gone quite differently this season for Coach Laura Crow and her Conway Lady Wampus Cats as opposed to what's transpired for them in past years.
The team has had to adjust their schedule as well as how they handle themselves off the court for reasons associated with covid-19. But neither Crow nor the Lady Wampus Cats have seemingly missed a beat.
Conway (3-1, 2-0 6A-Central) is coming off a key victory over league rival North Little Rock, which beat the Lady Wampus Cats twice a year ago.
"The girls are just happy to be on the court," said Crow, who is in her 18th season as coach and led the team to a state title in 2018. "We've had to adjust to how we do things. We had to give up our tournaments, and those are always fun for us because we'd usually spend the night at a couple of them ... just bond as a team.
"Even at the beginning of the year, the girls would usually have a BBQ or something together. They were like 'coach, we want to work on team bonding, but we don't know what we can do.' I was like, 'we can't do anything.' But they adjusted and are thankful for what we are able to do."
Crow credits her upperclassmen for stepping up and taking on added leadership roles during an otherwise abnormal year. Abby Masters, one of Conway's top seniors, helped lead the way in Tuesday's victory with 22 assists.
LR CHRISTIAN TENNIS
Barry McCaskill would love to see with his Little Rock Christian teams are able to do after strong showings at last year's Class 5A state tournament.
He just hasn't gotten many opportunities to do so.
The Warriors and Lady Warriors have played just one match so far this year, with each nabbing victories over Sylvan Hills.
"We've had a few rainouts over the last couple of weeks," he said. "That's kind of part of it though when you play an outdoor sport, especially one where the courts can be dangerous when wet. But the kids have kept a good attitude about it."
McCaskill said he's been pleased with both the boys and girls considering mother nature has flogged several of their events. Seniors Mary Kathryn Nelson and Piper Greer spearhead a deep Lady Warrior squad while the Warriors are showing promise despite their youth.
FS SOUTHSIDE VOLLEYBALL
Blocking out chaos
Desperate times have yielded desperate measures for Fort Smith Southside.
The Mavericks are 4-1 and 2-0 in the 6A-West, and they've done so without the benefit of practicing in their own gymnasium.
"We are extraordinarily blessed to be getting a new arena," Southside Coach Natalie Throneberry said. "It's just unfortunate timing for us, though. Even our south gym is in the process of a beautiful renovation. So when you throw in a global pandemic with the fact that you have to practice at another place as well as playing games at a third venue, things get pretty wild.
"Shoot, I run a laundry mat for towels out of my trunk."
Southside has been holding workouts and practices at a nearby facility run by the Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball Club. But the Mavericks have seemingly taken the adjustments in stride and are in position to make another run at a state title, especially after knocking off Bentonville on Tuesday night.
"The girls are really just focused on being thankful to play, but I think there was a different level of focus in that one," said Throneberry, whose team beat the Lady Tigers 3-0 in a rematch of last year's Class 6A title game.
At least 11 high schools will take part in the Fort Smith Cross Country Invitational on Saturday at Ben Geren Park in Fort Smith. The girls group, which includes Class 6A champion Bentonville and Class 5A titlist Greenwood, is slated to begin at 8 a.m. The boys, led by three-time Class 6A winner Bentonville, will follow as soon as the course is cleared. Guidelines recommended by the Arkansas Activities Association as well as the Arkansas Department of Health will be in place. ... Defending Class 3A state volleyball champion Episcopal Collegiate (6-0) earned its 15th consecutive victory on the road dating back to last year after beating Benton Harmony Grove 3-0 (25-13, 25-17, 25-22) on Tuesday night.