State tournament. Hannah McClung (back, in white) prepares to set the ball as Whitney Weaver (2) backs her up during the Booneville Lady Bearcats’ Class 4A state volleyball first-round match against Pea Ridge last Tuesday in Mena. Ashdon Ross (6), Hiley Sage Catlett (00), Grace Farmer (23) and Taylor Bauer (33) prepare for a possible attack. The Lady Cats lost a very close match in five games.
When the pairings for the Class 4A state volleyball tournament were finalized, Booneville’s first-round matchup with Pea Ridge smacked with the potential to be one of the best matches in the tournament. The two teams saw to it that it lived up to all the hype.
The Lady Cats and Lady Hawks slugged it out for over two hours, trading set for set. Neither team was willing to let any ball go down without a battle and both were playing at the top of their game. It was a match that perhaps deserved to be called a draw.
The circumstances demanded a winner, though, and 15 points were not enough to decide the last game. After being tied at 14, 15 and 16, the result was a heartbreaking loss for the Lady Cats as Pea Ridge advanced (25-13, 19-25, 26-24, 21-15, 18-16).
“There’s nothing I can say after a match like this,” coach Robert Dean told the team afterward. The team was bitterly disappointed that they did not get a shot at Valley View, who went on to win the tournament.
After the first part of game one was played evenly, Pea Ridge took a narrow lead with a three-point run. They later added four more in a row, then after Hiley Sage Catlett and Whitney Weaver narrowed the margin with a kill each, the Lady Hawks ran off nine of the last 10 points and easily claimed the game.
Taylor Bauer started the second game with a kill and Booneville took charge with a seven-point run on Raylynn Scott’s serve. Ashdon Ross had a push and a kill in the run, then added an ace, and another Catlett kill made it 15-4. The Lady Hawks tried to mount a comeback but another Ross kill kept them at bay, and Weaver slapped one down to take the game.
The Lady Hawks ripped off the first six points of the third game but Booneville got them all back, featuring a Catlett ace and a Weaver kill to tie it up. But Pea Ridge’s Mikhaela Cochran got hot and they took a 15-8 lead before BHS fought back again. Scott served two aces to begin the comeback, which also included two Catlett kills and a pair of unreturnable serves by Hannah McClung, who was also having a field day digging the ball. Catlett then evened the score with a kill and two aces and the game went back and forth from there, going past the target of 25, but a Booneville error gave the game to PRHS.
Booneville took command early in game four with Bauer, Scott and Ross each getting an early kill. Scott added an ace and Jaycie Rodatz shoved the ball into an open area, and the Booneville defense would not let Pea Ridge hold serve. It was 16-9 for the Lady Cats before PR could accomplish that; the Lady Hawks did close within 19-15 and 23-20, but Catlett fired a kill past the defense to force the decisive game.
The early lead in the fifth game went to the Lady Cats when Cochran smashed a kill attempt long. With a run of two on Catlett’s serve and three on Scott’s, Booneville led 8-5 and were more than halfway home. But then Sara Kahle, the Lady Hawks’ six-foot middle hitter, started getting things to go her way and was, unbelievably, matching McClung dig for dig as well, at least in that game. That spurred a five-point run that was stopped on a Catlett spike. Grace Farmer then got a shoot to go to tie the score, but the Lady Hawks gained a match point at 14-12. A ball in the net and another long took care of that and Weaver pushed one through a block for 15-15. Ross then tipped a ball away from the block to tie it at 16, but Pea Ridge scored the next point and an epic rally ensued, with neither team ready to give up and both making saves. In the end, though, a Ross hit shanked into the net.
Catlett had arguably the finest overall match she has ever played, with 11 kills, 18 digs and eight assists. Weaver had seven kills and a personal-best 32 digs and Scott contributed five blocks. McClung got credit for 51 kills in 66 tries (77 percent) and her sophomore classmate, Ross, added 21 more while Rodatz claimed 13 assists. Booneville dug it up a record 146 times in 201 tries for 72.6 percent and had 27 kills as a team.
The Lady Cats finished the season with a record of 13-10, 5-5 in 4A West play. This enabled Booneville to have back-to-back winning seasons in volleyball for the first time, and their .500 record in the conference is also a first.
The team reset or added to 17 individual or team records, the same number as last season. Hiley Sage Catlett holds all the records for kills, finishing with 360 for her career, and also broke Jaycie Rodatz’s single-season assist record with 275. Rodatz, though, is the single-game (23) and career leader in assists (537) with a season still to play and also broke her own record with 139 consecutive serves inbounds.
Whitney Weaver broke her own record for serving percentage in a season as she got 98 percent of them in, missing only six. Rodatz also missed just half a dozen serves this season but did not serve as much as Weaver, who also now holds the career record at 96.57 percent. Raylynn Scott eclipsed Brittany Ward’s career blocks record, ending with 171, and Nicole Wallace became the first Lady Cat to dig at over 75 percent for a career, finishing at 75.09 percent.
But the most impressive numbers belong to Hannah McClung. The sophomore libero shattered the previous record for digs in a season by over 200 as she ended the season with 650. McClung had her finest moment against Arkadelphia earlier in the season when she got the ball up an unbelievable 65 times. McClung is already fourth on the career list. The team set new marks for kills, assists, blocks and serving percentage in a season; the Lady Cats got 93.6 percent of their serves in with four girls (Weaver, Rodatz, McClung and Ashdon Ross) serving at better than a 95 percent clip.
Booneville moves to the 3A West Conference for next season and should be an instant contender. Two-time defending 3A champion Mansfield and two-time defending runner-up Paris will be the main contenders and West Fork should have a strong team as well. Lavaca, Union Christian and Mulberry make up the rest of the conference. It certainly will cut down on travel time as West Fork is the longest trip.
Optimism is already high among returning players. Several have indicated that their goal for next season is a state title and with the returning talent and a very good bunch of ninth-graders moving up, to count the Lady Cats of 2014 out would be impossible. Rodatz, Grace Farmer and Taylor Bauer will be among the senior leaders next year.