Last week, Central Arkansas Christian’s Christyn Williams got her jersey for the McDonald’s High School All-American Game.
This week, she hopes to lead her Lady Mustangs back to the Class 4A state championship game.
CAC is the top seed from the East Regional for the Class 4A State Tournament, which starts Wednesday at Brookland.
“This what we’ve all been waiting for,” said Williams, who has signed with Connecticut and was this week named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s National Player of the Year. “It means so much to the whole CAC community because everyone knows how far we’ve come as a team and how hard we’ve worked to get to this point, and honestly, everyone just wants to see us succeed. The support is amazing, and we are grateful for it.”
Steve Quattlebaum’s Lady Mustangs (33-1 and entering the state tournament on a 24-game winning streak), have a bye to Thursday’s 4 p.m. quarterfinals, where they’ll face the winner of the first-round game between Ozark (26-2), third from the North, and Warren (26-6), third from the South.
Looming in Saturday’s noon semifinals would be the survivor of Monticello (27-6), first from the South, which has a first-round bye; Lonoke (24-9), third from the East and Pottsville (25-6), fourth from the North.
The bottom half of the bracket includes Berryville (31-2), first from the North, with a first-round bye; Star City (22-9), second from the South, against eStem (18-9), fourth from the East; Riverview (24-9), second from the East, with a first-round bye; and Gravette (24-7), second from the North, against Ashdown (17-12), fourth from the South.
Semifinal winners will play for the state championship next week at. Hot Springs’ Bank of the Ozarks Arena.
“We’ve got a good shot,” said Quattlebaum, who led the Lady Mustangs to state championships in 2005, ‘06 and ‘07. “You never know how kids will react to the state tournament, but I like how ours are focused.
“They were disappointed last year. They felt like they lost an opportunity. They’ve been pointing toward this time of year since then. I hope they can keep it up.”
Last season, CAC appeared to be on its way to a fourth state title before late-season injuries, including one to Williams, hurt the Lady Mustangs. They lost three of their last four games to finish 29-5 with a loss to Berryville in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
In 2015, when Williams, Jenna Davis, Kelson Miller and Alexa Mashburn were freshmen, CAC reached the quarterfinals before falling to Star City. In 2016, when they were sophomores, the Lady Mustangs went to the championship game, where they lost to Riverview.
Williams and her classmates know 2018 is it.
“The mood going into state is we are all ‘tunnel-visioned’,” Williams said. “We know what we have to do to win a state championship, and our one goal right now is to go out there and do just that. This is our senior year, so this is our last chance to get the task done, so it’s very important to us.
“We have four seniors, meaning we have four captains running this ship. So there are leaders everywhere on the court, and I think we have been using our experience to our advantage.”
Quattlebaum said he expected to get Ozark in the quarters.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever played them,” he said. “They’ve got one really good player and some pretty sound, solid role players around her. It’s a program that’s used to winning. It’ll be a tough game.”
CAC, which has lost only to Conway, the top seed for the Class 7A State Tournament, won its combined conference, the 2-4A District Tournament and the Class 4A East Regional. The 2-4A got all four teams out of the regional.
To win the regional, CAC beat Gosnell, eStem and Riverview.
In the 60-22 win opening-round win over Gosnell, the fourth seed from the 3-4A, the Lady Mustangs led by 9-7 midway through the first quarter before settling things. They held advantages of 16-9 after one quarter, 43-12 at halftime and 50-15 after three quarters.
In one half of play, Williams paced CAC with 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Freshman Bethany Dillard scored 15 points, all in the first half. Madyson Bowman added 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and Miller handed out seven assists.
In the semifinals, the Lady Mustangs knocked off eStem for the fourth time this season, 63-54. CAC led after one quarter, 13-7; at halftime, 28-21; and after three quarters, 46-32. The Lady Mets rallied in the fourth to cut five off the differences.
Williams recorded 33 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and a steal. Davis added 14 points and eight rebounds. Dillard had 12 points and Miller seven assists.
The Lady Mustangs earned their No. 1 seed with their third win of the season over Riverview in the East Regional championship Saturday at Lonoke, 71-56.
While the final margin was similar to the district championship two weeks ago (65-48), this one was a closer game. At 3:48 of the third quarter, the Lady Mustangs led by just 37-36, and the Lady Raiders turned the ball over on one opportunity to take the lead and missed a shot on another before Williams hit a layup, a put-back and a three-point play off Davis’ offensive rebound to move the CAC advantage back out to 44-36. Dillard hit a free throw and 3-pointer in the last 39.2 seconds as the Lady Mustangs led after three, 48-41.
Williams scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, mostly from the lane, as the Lady Mustangs stretched their lead to 55-41 with 6:39 left and 65-48 with 2:48 left. Dillard’s two free throws with 1:12 left lifted CAC by 71-53.
CAC, which had led after the first quarter, 22-12, on the strength of Dillard’s 12 points, had a 33-28 advantage at the half. The Lady Mustangs stretched that to 37-28 on back-to-back baskets by Williams and Dillard, but they went scoreless for nearly five minutes as Riverview pulled within 37-36. CAC had turnovers on four consecutive possessions during the stretch.
Williams led all scorers with 36 points. Dillard added 26.