Benton cruises to 6A state championship.
JONESBORO — Benton had been flawless throughout the entire 6A state volleyball tournament and on Saturday at the Arkansas State Convocation Center the Lady Panthers put an emphatic stamp on their season.
Benton downed Marion 25-23, 23-25, 25-22 and 25-18 to win its first volleyball title in school history.
“We picked up a motto this state tournament and that was just say no,” Benton coach Brandy Chumley said. “We said that every time out and reminded ourselves that we could not let the ball hit the floor.”
Benton had to fight and claw for every point and it still almost wasn’t enough. In game four both teams battled for the early part of the game before Benton broke away on a 4-0 run to go up 20-16.
The lead swelled to 21-16 after tournament Most Valuable Player Sam Comet made a block at the net. Rachel White then added a kill and Comet followed with an ace to setup match point.
Marion returned the Comet serve, but failed to return a Ty Lindberg kill attempt to give Benton the point and the state championship.
After battling Jonesboro in five game match on Thursday in the semifinals and then giving everything they had in the finals, Chumley said her team was exhausted.
“It was very emotionally draining and physically draining,” she said. “After the Jonesboro I felt like I played, but it was nothing compared to what these guys are going through on the court.”
Marion jumped out to a 22-13 in game one, but Marion wasn’t prepared to go away without a fight. After earning three straight points on Benton errors, Jacquia Bell drilled a hard kill down the boundary line and Taylor Sinclair followed an ace. Benton then failed to get the next point in bounds to pull Marion within 23-20.
The Lady Panthers finally regrouped and took a 24-21 lead, but Marion fought off the next two match points before a return finally sailed into the net to give Benton a hard earned game one victory.
“I think they played a little bit harder than us and I think they played a little bit better defense than us,” Marion coach Lisa Beasley said. “Our serve-receive and passing struggled a little bit and I said that Thursday.”
Marion struggled to find a way to stop Benton’s two-headed monster of Comet and Lindberg. The pair combined for 28 kills (19 each) and was a force at the net all game long.
In game three Comet took command and connected on back-to-back kills to push the Benton lead to 11-5 early on. The Lady Panthers built an 18-11 lead, but Marion once again battled back and trailed just 19-18. However, the constant comebacks finally took their toll as Benton pulled away and eventually converted on game point for the 25-22 win.
“This is just an amazing feeling,” Comet said in the postgame interview. “I’m sure it hasn’t fully settled in yet, but I’m just our seniors go to the end year the way we wanted to.”
Marion seemed to swing momentum in its favor in game two when it picked a two-point victory to even the match at one game each. The game featured 10 ties and seven lead changes.
Bell was big in the game for Marion, especially at the net where she collected four blocks in the game and connected on five kills.
“We’ve got some big guns and we can come at you from different directions,” Beasley said. “When the passes aren’t working though and you can’t setup good chances they are a tough team to beat.”
Beasley admitted her team would have to play a nearly perfect game on Saturday to capture its first state title and early it was evident the Lady Patriots were not on top of their game.
Marion committed several errors at the net and was even worse on its serve-receive percentage. Still the Lady Patriots were able to keep it close and gave Benton more than it wanted.
“They are a great team,” Chumley said. “We knew we had to play our best game and I thought we did. It was just an all around great effort.”
article updated on 11/25/09 18:46