Following a narrow first-game loss to Berryville in the Class 4A state tournament in Lonoke, it looked as if the Booneville volleyball team was well on their way to evening the score in the second set, as midway through they enjoyed a 12-9 lead.
But the Lady Bobcats changed that with a 14-2 run from which the LadyCats really never recovered. Berryville went on to take the first-round state tournament match in straight games (25-23, 25-19, 25-14).
Booneville was slow to start as Berryville scored the first seven points of the match. A serve in the net finally gave the ball to the LadyCats, who responded with a four-point run of their own, capped by a Jordan Weaver kill. She added another and Abby Glass got two as Booneville sought to get back into it. They finally did as they got a six-point run on Kelsey Mikles’ serve. The sophomore contributed two aces, Haley Simpson stuffed a tip and Glass added her third kill to pull Booneville within 14-13. Berryville pulled back out by three but Weaver picked up two more kills and Mikles added another, making it 22-20. After Glass got a kill and a block, Simpson thwarted a Berryville game point with a kill, but the Lady Bobcats responded to take the first game.
Vallerie Griffiths started the second game right with an ace and AshLeah Craig would add two more as Booneville raced to a 6-2 lead in the second game. They stretched that to 11-5 and two Simpson kills appeared to keep Berryville at bay. But at 12-9, Booneville could not get the Lady Bobcats’ Abby Nickell off the serve line. She served three aces and Booneville was guilty of some errors. By the time Aleeah Blansett knocked down an bad set, Berryville led 17-12. Paisley Templeman tried to get Booneville back in it with an ace but Berryville followed that with a six-point run and went on to the win.
Blansett and Weaver combined on a block to tie the score at 2 early in the third set and then the sophomore middle hitter had her best run, adding another block and a kill. But Berryville then strung five together before Glass got a rejection. She then added two kills to get Booneville within 10-7, but at 14-10 Berryville got four in a row before Mikles attacked from the back row for a point. Another four-point run by the Lady Bobcats made it 22-12 and put a rally out of Booneville’s reach.
Glass finished with six kills and three blocks; Weaver and Mikles each scored with four kills, with Blansett getting three kills and seven blocks. Griffiths contributed 13 assists, and Templeman collected 38 digs.
Despite the loss, coach Robert Dean pointed out many positives during the season. “We had a lot of adversity through the year and we still won 22 games,” said the coach. The LadyCats finished with a record of 22-12-1.
Some of that adversity came through untimely injuries. Outside hitter Macy Geddes, was lost to the team about two-thirds of the way through the season after an ACL injury. She had 75 kills to that point of the season. Middle Aleeah Blansett had to sit out two whole matches and part of a third with a sprained ankle.
However, that gave other players the opportunity to shine. Junior Casey Townsend and sophomore Kelsey Mikles logged more playing time than it was imagined they would at the start of the season, and each did an excellent job.
Abby Glass became the first LadyCat to have over 200 kills in a season as she finished with 231, and the senior was also the first to go over 400 career kills, ending her career with 401. She also had 71 blocks and 366 digs. Jordan Weaver had a breakout season, scoring with 186 kills, more than any LadyCat had ever had in a season with the exception of Glass, and played defense well when opponents attempted to use a finesse game.
Blansett also made history, becoming the first Booneville volleyball player to have over 100 kills and over 100 blocks in the same season. She got 116 kills and rejected 102 opposition spikes. Haley Simpson also went over the 100-kill mark, ending at 101. Melanie Hester also found a home; after switching to the right side, the junior attacked at 84% and became a major threat.
The setters also had a banner year; Maddie Herrera went past Hiley Catlett’s season record as she set 280 kills; Vallerie Griffiths was not far behind with 260. Townsend and AshLeah Craig, who also had 227 digs, also filled in at setter through the season.
Those who expected the graduation of Hannah McClung last year to leave a hole at libero were sorely disappointed. Paisley Templeman surpassed McClung’s dig record as she got the ball up 717 times. The sophomore also just missed the return percent record; still she had over an 81% success rate on digs.
With the team only losing three seniors, the LadyCats should be very strong again next season. They return all their outside hitters (Weaver, Geddes, Simpson and Hester), who will all be seniors, while Blansett, Herrera and Templeman still have two more seasons left to play. Townsend and Mikles will also return as proven utility players who can play at a high level. In addition, outside/middle hitter Haley Carter, who did not play this season, is expected to return for her senior campaign.
There are also players who have put in a year or two in JV and will be scrapping to break into the lineup, as well as an incoming sophomore class that has lots of potential. While this season was very good, 2017 should be even better.