One of the best volleyball seasons in Central Arkansas Christian school history ended last week in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A State Tournament at Mena.
Ken Roberts’ Lady Mustangs, top seed from the 4A-Central, fell to Waldron, second seed from the West, in the quarterfinals, 19-25, 25-9, 25-12, 25-18, to close 19-4.
No CAC team has ever advanced past the quarters.
"They’ve gone that far before, but we felt like we left one on the table," said Roberts, who has coached CAC seventh graders for several years but had not coached the high school Lady Mustangs prior to this season. "We played pretty well the first game of the quarterfinal and then we couldn’t return the girl’s serve. We got behind, and that was pretty much it. We couldn’t get back going.
"But it was a good season."
The Lady Mustangs beat Newport, fourth seed from the Northeast, in the opening round of the state tournament, 25-19, 25-13, 20-25, 25-23. They lost just one 4A-Central match (to Southside Batesville) en route to a repeat of their conference championship season in 2012 and won the district tournament, bettering their finish last year. In ’12, they lost to Malvern in the opening round of the state tournament to finish 18-8.
Roberts succeeded Cade Smith, who left during the summer for an assistant’s position at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Roberts had coached in high school before arriving at CAC.
"It took a little while to get the right people in the right spots," he said of the transition. "Part of it was me figuring it out, and part was them developing during the year and filling different roles."
He praised the leadership of Jessica McCauley, one of four seniors and the team captain.
"She helped me a lot as far as being able to communicate with the girls and making me feel part of the team from the beginning," Roberts said. "I was hesitant, especially with the seniors. It was disappointing to them to see their coach leave; there was some uncertainty, and she made the transition for me easier. She was supportive and involved."
Other seniors ending their CAC volleyball careers last week were Hayley Nichols, Maycee Fendley and Alexis Weber.
Weber is the 7-4A’s all-star nominee and made the all-state tournament team. She and McCauley were named all-state. The four seniors made the first team of the all-conference squad, with juniors Sydnie Jones and Rachel Basham and sophomore Bailey Zini earning second-team honors. McCauley, Nichols, Fendley, Weber, Jones and Basham made the all-district tournament team.
Roberts said one of the highlights of the season was watching Jones come into her own as a volleyball player. She is expected to sign with a Division I basketball program.
"We do have a lot coming back," he said. "Next year we’ll be a different team with Alexis leaving as libero, so we’ll have to do a different rotation, but we’re excited about the hitters we’ve got coming back."
He, too, will return.
"I didn’t know at first if they’d want me back," said Roberts, who teaches sixth grade at the North Little Rock campus. "I was an emergency hire, but about a week before the season ended, Dr. (Carter) Lambert (CAC president) asked if I’d be interested in coming back next year. I’m excited about working with these girls again."
Also expected back are Angela Almond, the junior high coach who worked closely with the high school squad, and registered volunteer Lynn Brown, a former Harding University player. Roberts praised the contributions of both to the program.
"The plan is to have a little continuity," he said. "I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the game. It was exciting for me."
His seventh graders went 9-2 this season and won their season-ending tournament. Roberts coached the current sophomores when they were seventh graders.
He said three players would move on to basketball with the remainder to club soccer and spring sports. Plans are ongoing to open a weight room for girls in the gym, which should help with off-season conditioning, he said.