Defending volleyball champs taking their lumps early

Defending volleyball champs taking their lumps early

Photos By: Peggy Barger

The 2020 season was a magical one for the Greenwood Lady Bulldogs, winning 21 consecutive matches, unbeaten (14-0) in conference play, and ultimately winning the 5A state championship, all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a remarkable feat for veteran Head Coach Jennifer Golden, her staff and players. But 2021 is a different year.

Remnants of the pandemic still linger and threaten, though Covid restrictions have lessened, but the competition on the court is no less fierce than in previous years, only this season Golden and her team are not blessed with an overabundance of talented and experienced seniors as in 2020. As August ended, the GHS girls are two games under the .500 mark at 4-6 overall.

But here’s the rest of the story. As usual, the Lady Bulldogs have played a whale of a schedule in their early non-conference matches. All eight Arkansas teams they have played, including their benefit match at Bentonville, have been against Class 6A teams, while also playing several quality out-of-state opponents from larger schools in last Saturday’s Early Bird Tournament in Bentonville.

Golden, now in her 21st year at Greenwood, all as head coach, prefers to load up against top-notch competition early in the schedule to prepare her players for the intensity of league play in the 5A West. The Lady Bulldogs begin conference action next Tuesday at Russellville before hosting Van Buren on Thursday, September 9th.

This past Monday afternoon the Lady Bulldogs won a big match on the road at Fort Smith Southside over the Lady Mavericks in a five-set overtime contest. (See the results at the end of this article.) The GHS girls are off for the remainder of the week ahead of the long Labor Day weekend. But here is how the season has unfolded so far.

Fayetteville

On August 23rd the GHS girls opened their 2021 campaign at home against the defending 6A state champion Lady Purple Dogs of Fayetteville. The same teams opened last season with Fayetteville handing the Lady Bulldogs their only loss of 2020. Unfortunately, the visitors got the best of Greenwood once again this season in straight sets (25-10, 25-16, 25-17).

Five different players had kill shots for Greenwood, 10 in all, with seniors Courtney Swilling and Kylie Lawson notching two each. Sophomore Tori Howard led the team with 10 digs from the back line while Lawson added five more. Junior Ashlyn Butler led the squad with six assists. Howard and Lawson led the way in service receptions with 24 and 16, respectively.

Springdale Har-Ber

After their opening loss to Fayetteville, the Lady Bulldogs traveled to Springdale the following day to take on the Lady Wildcats, losing again in three sets, 25-23, 25-10, and 25-12. Despite the lopsided scores in the final two sets, Greenwood was more aggressive offensively, or perhaps more successful than against Fayetteville, with 21 kills at Springdale.

Sophomore Myia McCoy, one of the few returnees that saw significant playing time last season as a freshman, along with junior Landis Luke, led the Lady Bulldogs with seven kills each. Courtney Swilling added four. Also telling, Greenwood had only one service ace and five total blocks in the match against the Lady Wildcats.

Ashlyn Butler led the team with nine digs, followed by Tori Howard with five. Kylie Lawson and junior Lillyanna Gigerich had three digs each. Butler also led the team in ball handling with 10 assists. Howard had 17 service receptions, McCoy had 15, while Lawson and junior Riley Golden had 10 each.

Ft. Smith Northside

The Lady Grizzlies welcomed Greenwood to campus on August 26th to complete their first week of competition in 2021. Known for their prowess on both the volleyball and basketball courts, the Lady Bears have numerous state championships to prove it, and their annual battle with the Lady Bulldogs is always competitive. This year was no different.

The visitors gave Northside all they wanted, but ultimately succumbed in a four-set loss. The home team won the first two sets, 25-19, before Greenwood rallied to take the third set in overtime, 28-26. The Lady Bears then won 25-19 again in the fourth and final set to take the match.

Statistically, the Lady Bulldogs had 35 kills to 53 for Northside. Greenwood was led by Myia McCoy with 10, followed by Courtney Swilling and Landis Luke with eight each. The Lady Bears also had 15 service aces to seven for the visitors, three of those by Greenwood’s Ashlyn Butler. Northside also won the battle at the net with 12 blocks to five for the visitors.

The Lady Bulldogs had three players reach double digits in digs, led by Tori Howard’s 19. McCoy followed with 13 while Riley Golden had a dozen. Ashlyn Butler led her teammates with 19 assists, while junior Rylie Holland had 13. Howard led Greenwood with a whopping 41 service receptions.

Conway

Last Saturday the Lady Bulldogs traveled to Bentonville for the Early Bird Tournament, facing six opponents in a single day playing best-of-three matches. Their first opponent was yet another Class 6A power in the Lady Wampus Cats of Conway, who won the contest in straight sets, 25-15 and 25-10.

Greenwood had nine kill shots in the abbreviated match with four players getting two each. The Lady Bulldogs had no service aces, only two blocked shots, and a total of 13 digs, led by Tori Howard with four. Rylie Holland had the team’s only three assists, while Riley Golden led with 17 service receptions and Kylie Lawson had 11.

Blue Springs South (MO)

Up next for the Lady Bulldogs were the Lady Jaguars of Blue Springs South High School, a large district located Southeast of Kansas City with over 2,000 students. Greenwood won a highly competitive first set, 25-23, then dropped the second set, 25-17, before rallying to win a shortened third set, 15-11.

The Lady Jags racked up 39 kills to 27 for Greenwood, and neither team was very adept at blocking such shots. Myia McCoy had 11 kills for the Lady Bulldogs, while Landis Luke had eight and junior Lane Presley had five. Greenwood had three service aces to just one for Blue Springs. Riley Golden had two of those for her mom’s team.

Several players contributed to Greenwood’s 38 digs, including Tori Howard with 10, Myia McCoy and Ashlyn Butler with eight each, Riley Golden with six, and Lane Presley with four. Rylie Holland led the team with 12 assists, followed by Ashlyn Butler with seven. Howard had 25 service receptions with zero errors. Riley Golden had eight and Landis Luke six, again with no errors.

Rogers

There was no letup in the level of competition in Greenwood’s next match against another 6A team from Northwest Arkansas. The Lady Mountaineers of Rogers won two tightly contested sets over the Lady Bulldogs by identical 25-23 scores.

Both teams attacked the net with fairly equal ferocity and success. Rogers edged Greenwood with 29 kill shots to 24 and had a slight lead in blocks, six to four. Luke and McCoy shared the GHS lead in kill shots with seven each, while Courtney Swilling added four and Kylie Lawson three. Lane Presley had two of Greenwood’s four blocks.

The Lady Bulldogs won the battle at the service line with six aces for the match to four by the Rogers’ girls. Riley Golden had half of Greenwood’s total while Ashlyn Butler had two of the remaining three. Myia McCoy had eight saves to lead a group of GHS players with multiple digs including Riley Golden (5), Tori Howard (4), Rylie Holland (4), and Ashlyn Butler (3).

Holland also led her teammates with eight assists, with Butler close behind with seven. McCoy topped the GHS stats in service receptions with 15, while Howard had nine and Golden seven.

Carthage (MO)

In their next match the Lady Bulldogs suffered another narrow two-set loss to yet another large out-of-state high school. The Lady Tigers of Carthage, Missouri, defeated the GHS girls 25-23 and 25-22. Carthage has an enrollment of over 1,500 students compared to Greenwood’s estimated 900. The outcome of the match was largely determined on the front line.

Statistically, both teams were very similar, except for the Lady Tigers’ slight advantage in kill shots, 24 to 17 for the Lady Bulldogs. Kylie Lawson led her teammates with four kills and Myia McCoy with three, with three others getting two each. Greenwood had nine blocks to six for Carthage. Lane Presley had four of those blocks for the Lady Bulldogs.

The GHS girls narrowly won the battle of the service line with six aces to five for Carthage, led by Tori Howard with three and Riley Golden with two. Howard also led in digs with nine while Lillyanna Gigerich had eight, along with Ashlyn Butler. Riley Golden had five digs while Rylie Holland and Lane Presley had four each. Holland and Butler led their teammates in assists with six and five, respectively. Tori Howard had 23 service returns to lead the team, while Riley Golden had eight.

Bentonville West

The Lady Wolverines, representing Bentonville’s other Class 6A high school, were up next for Greenwood, and the Lady Bulldogs managed to win in straight sets, 25-18 and 25-20. Stats for Bentonville West were not available, but the GHS girls appeared to be effective at the net with 25 kill shots in two sets.

Myia McCoy led the way with eight smashes followed by Landis Luke with seven and Kylie Lawson with five. Ashlyn Butler had three of Greenwood’s six service aces. Seven players had digs in the contest led by Tori Howard with four and Rylie Holland with three. Holland also led the team with 11 assists while Howard had 15 service receptions.

Carthage (MO)

Perhaps the highlight of Saturday’s long day of action for the Lady Bulldogs was their rematch with Carthage, Missouri. In three sets the GHS girls avenged their earlier loss, winning sets two (25-17) and three (15-11) after dropping the opening set, 25-18. The match featured some fierce net play with the teams combining for 62 kill shots.

The GHS girls bested the Lady Tigers 33 to 29 at the net, led by Myia McCoy’s 14 kills. Courtney Swilling added seven, Landis Luke six, and Kylie Lawson four. Greenwood also had five blocks with Swilling and Lane Presley getting two each. Ashlyn Butler led the team with nine assists while Rylie Holland had seven.

Several GHS players contributed with saves, including Tori Howard with seven digs and Riley Golden with six. Five others had at least two digs. Myia McCoy led the team with 13 service receptions with no errors. Riley Golden had nine and Tori Howard had six.

Ft. Smith Southside

After Saturday’s tournament results, Monday’s endurance contest in the River City may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Lady Bulldogs heading into conference play. They have certainly proven to themselves that they can stand toe-to-toe with some of the biggest and best volleyball schools in region.

Their weekend tilt with the Lady Mavericks was a slugfest with five sets determined by an average of just four points each, the last of those sets going into overtime. Southside won sets two (25-19) and three (25-22), while Greenwood won sets one (25-18), four (25-23), and five (19-17), rallying from a 2-1 deficit for the victory.

The Lady Bulldogs had three players – McCoy (18), Lawson (12), and Luke (12) – with double digit kill shots and a team total of 51, their best output of the season by far. Courtney Swilling added seven slams at the net. Greenwood also had 14 blocks, led by Landis Luke with eight, Swilling with four, and Lane Presley with three.

The GHS girls also had 119 total digs in the extended match, with five players reaching double figures with saves. Tori Howard had 27, McCoy 20, Rylie Holland 17, while Ashlyn Butler and Kylie Lawson had 11 each. Riley Golden had nine, Landis Luke seven, Lane Presley six, and sophomore Carsyn Holland five.

Butler and Rylie Holland led the team in ball handling with 25 and 20 assists, respectively. Tori Howard led the squad in service receptions with 36 for the match, followed by Luke with 13, Golden with 10, and Lawson with nine.

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