Since the FSJ-Booneville JO volleyball program started in 2013, no team had made a Gold Bracket (overall championship) final in a tournament.

The newest FSJ-B 14-and-under team changed all that on Jan. 6, when they beat four different teams — all from much larger cities — to go to the finals. The team is comprised of five Booneville players and three from Charleston.

In pool play, they had a struggle initially against Chaos from Benton, who took them to the volleyball equivalent of overtime in the first game (26-24) before FSJ-B won the second game 25-18, with the final kill coming from Jessica Cauthon. They then defeated McAlester, Oklahoma, before besting Club Net of Bentonville 25-18, 25-18, to win their pool.

Another Chaos team was their semifinal opponent and the Benton team took it to Booneville early, leading 22-14. But FSJ-B put on a big rally with Julianna Arroyo at the serve line. Arroyo served three aces, Joleigh Tate got several kills and a block with Halee Villarreal and Amber Molliere getting critical digs. Chaos had one game point, but served it in the net and FSJ-B completed the rally to win the game 27-25. That took the wind out of Chaos’ sails and FSJ-B rolled to a big lead in the second game, winning 25-16, with Maddie Walker smashing several kills.

That put FSJ-B in the finals against Paris Juniors, who themselves had downed three teams from large cities. The Booneville squad saw a familiar face across the net as Jacee Hart, who played at Booneville last year, was a part of the Paris team. After the teams swapped leads in the early and middle part of the first game, Paris pulled away late in the game to win 25-19 despite a couple of blocks from Tate. She asserted herself again in the second game, getting an emphatic block on six-footer Akira Robinson and hitting two kills through her block as FSJ-B took a three-point lead. Paris came back but Booneville hung in there, getting a kill from Jordyn Sims to get back within one (23-22), however Paris scored the last two points to take the championship.

Walker may have had her best tournament ever, gaining confidence all the time while unleashing some hard spikes, as did Tate who did work both offensively and defensively. Cauthon and Sims took turns setting and both had several kills as well, while Arroyo showed a lot of confidence in her game. Villarreal and Molliere were very solid in the back row and Delcie Young also had a good number of kills.

This team is not the only one with Booneville players on it playing club volleyball this winter. At least four other players, possibly more, are honing their skills through the winter to better themselves for the 2018 Booneville volleyball season.