Lady Hornets more experienced, stronger

BRYANT – After losing a ton of seniors this past season, the Bryant Lady Hornets went with a very young team last year and finished with a 6-6 7A/6A South Conference record and a first-round 7A State playoff loss. But, those youngsters have grown and added muscle over the past summer and look to contend.

But, there will be some changes this season. The Lady Hornets leave the South Conference this season and will go to a more competitive 7A/6A Central Conference which features volleyball powerhouse Conway. But changing conferences won’t be the only change Bryant will see this year. Head Coach Beth Solomon will be out on maternity leave, as will Assistant Coach Cristina Meyer, both due in September. With both coaches out on maternity leave, in steps Interim Coach Lawrence Jefferson.

Jefferson is in his third year at Bryant, the previous two as the ninth grade assistant basketball coach and varsity assistant soccer coach. Before Bryant, Jefferson spent five years at Arkadelphia coaching 7-9 grade volleyball and six years at Russellville Middle School coaching seventh grade volleyball.

“I’ve had them all summer,” Jefferson said of the Lady Hornets’ practices. “We’ve been doing 6 a.m. practice until school starts (8-9 a.m.) about every day, depending on whether they had weights or not. They’ve worked very hard this summer. It’s been very hot.”

Jefferson instilled a workout program over the summer to get the Lady Hornets stronger.

“They have busted their hind ends all year long,” he said. “We started a weight program before the dead week, came back and started back where we stopped, and some of them increased their squats by 40 pounds, and most of their bench presses went up at least 20. Some of the other volleyball coaches that know them say they can see definition in their arms and quads now. It’s a 6-week program and I think it works. They see the benefit in it.

“We’re not very tall. We’ve got to be strong and be able to hit the ball hard, and we have to be fast. They’ve really bought in to the weight room.”

The Lady Hornets do bring back 7A All-State setter, junior Britney Sahlmann.

“Right now we’re looking at a 5-1 offense and it’ll be Britney Sahlmann setting,” Jefferson said. “I know she set last year as a sophomore. She’ll be our main setter. She does a really good job. She works hard every day. She knows a lot about volleyball. She knows who to set, when to set and where to set, and that makes my job easier.”

Junior Allie Anderson and senior Mercedes Dillard will handle the outside hitting duties, senior Nikki Clay will be a backside hitter and back up Sahlmann setting, and sophomore Alex Dillard, junior Kendall Selig and senior Rylee Phillips will work in the middle.

Junior Whitney Brown will serve as libero (defensive specialist) and Jefferson has plenty of confidence in Brown.

“She does a really good job passing,” Jefferson said. “She gets down in position when she needs to and makes really good passes. In volleyball, if you can’t pass you’re dead. The other girls know she’s got this certain area covered, as long as they cover their areas and the blockers do their jobs, we’re going to be OK.”

As far as the new conference, Jefferson knows it will be a challenge.

“I know Conway’s always good, Alma and Greenwood are always good, even in the 6A, Russellville is returning the MVP of the state championship two years ago, so they’ll be tough. Siloam Springs, Van Buren, it’s going to be a tough season.

“In order to qualify for state, with the 6A/7A split, we’ve got to come in at least third place out of the four 7A teams in the conference. If we end up in the fourth place we stay at home. We’ve worked on passing, hitting, serving, all aspects of our game all summer. They’ve improved all summer. They’ve worked hard.
“If the basics and fundamentals are good, you’re going to have a good season.”