Fortunately, the North Pulaski volleyball season turned out much more satisfactory than Coach Benjie Belton anticipated.
With a very young squad and a lack of experience, the Falcons ended the season tied for fourth in the 5A-Central with Little Rock Mills. However, Mills had the tiebreaker and takes the fourth spot into the state tournament.
"The season turned out better than I expected," Belton said. "I was impressed with how we improved and played. I couldn’t have dreamed it. They wanted to win and get better, and they did."
Last week, the Falcons defeated Mills in four sets. A victory over Sylvan Hills last week would have notched a state tournament berth, but North Pulaski lost in three close sets. Instead, the Falcons had to settle for a tie for fourth in the conference.
Belton loses three seniors in setter Emily Long, outside hitter Casey Mullen and libero Ashlyn VanHorn. Both Long and Mullen suffered injuries this season. Long missed the beginning of the season with a shoulder issue, and Mullen tore her ACL three weeks ago. She wasn’t the only player who suffered a knee injury as Kim Brewer also tore her ACL.
"We had two torn ACL in a matter of two weeks," Belton said. "I hate for the seniors that they missed part of the season because of injuries."
What Belton is most proud of is how the girls handled the adversity of the injuries. Instead of folding, they played through and had some success.
"With other teams I have been involved with when people got hurt, they thought we are going to lose," Belton said. "The girls never letdown and improved, and I’m proud of their toughness."
With a plethora of young players, Belton is excited for the future. He also has been able to work with the ninth graders for the last two weeks and sees potential in several players. He saw two ninth graders who he said might have been difference makers this season. The one thing Belton will have to do is find a setter for next season.
"The next couple of years should be promising with the young kids who played as much as they did," he said. "There are some good players in the ninth grade class. They just don’t know what to do yet."
The other reason why the season was so much better than Belton expected is the girls truly enjoyed themselves and had a blast.