School is out for the holidays, and the Greenwood Lady Bulldogs are enjoying a well-deserved rest for a few days. Head Coach Clay Reeves, assistant coach Ryan Lensing, and their players have been working hard since summer in preparation to defend the 5A state championship they earned last season, despite the best efforts of a global pandemic to stop them.
Both Greenwood and Nettleton were awarded state titles after the 5A championship game was cancelled last March. With several returning starters and some promising newcomers, they appear poised to retain their crown this season.
The GHS girls are off to a great start at 6-2 against some of the state’s top-notch competition, their only losses coming in overtime to traditional Class 6A powers Conway and Fort Smith Northside. The Lady Bulldogs have also beaten 6A schools North Little Rock, Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Springdale Har-Ber, to go with wins over 5A powers Lake Hamilton and Jacksonville. It’s been a grueling schedule, but a rewarding one.
The defending state champs will return to hardcourt action next Tuesday on the road with a rematch at 6A Bentonville before hosting the 5A Lady Cardinals of Farmington on Saturday afternoon, January 2nd, just prior to the start of 5A West conference play on January 5th at Greenbrier. The Farmington contest will be the first time this season the GHS girls and boys have played together against a common opponent.
This past Tuesday the Lady Bulldogs left early and made a day of it traveling to Central Arkansas to take on the Lady Red Devils, a team they most recently faced in the state quarter-finals last March, winning handily, 74-36. Tuesday’s score was a little closer, but not by much. Greenwood won by 22 points, 67-45. Details of the victory were not immediately available due to the impending Christmas holiday.
Fort Smith Northside
Prior to facing Jacksonville, the GHS girls played their annual rivalry game against the Northside Lady Bears, a perennial power in 6A girls basketball. Their yearly joust took place last Friday, December 18th, at H.B. Stewart Arena, with the visitors earning a hard-fought 69-67 win in overtime.
Just two seasons removed from winning their own state title, the Lady Grizzlies got a long jump shot from senior point guard Jersey Wolfenbarger with time running out to defeat the Lady Bulldogs in the extra period. As a sophomore, Wolfenbarger did the same thing to cinch the 6A state title in 2019.
Against Greenwood, Wolfenbarger pulled up just inside the free-throw line and hit a jumper with less than five seconds remaining, giving the home team precious little time to respond. Northside hung on for the two-point win.
In the first half it seemed as if the Lady Bulldogs were going to win handily, hitting eight three-point baskets, five of those coming from senior guard Kinley Fisher, Greenwood’s leading scorer on the night. The home team went on to build a double-digit lead at the break and eventually went up by 15 points early in the third quarter.
But the Lady Bears gradually chipped away at the GHS lead, getting within four points by the end the period. They continued their rally into the fourth quarter, tying the score to force the overtime. Northside switched its defense and the home team hit just one three-pointer in the second half.
Northside actually took the lead with more than three minutes remaining in the game, stretching it to four points with 1:56 left in regulation. But the Lady Bears missed some free throws to open the door for a Greenwood comeback. With 21 seconds remaining, the last of four free throws from sophomore Mady Cartwright tied the score at 61-all. The GHS defense then prevented Northside from getting off a last second shot, forcing the overtime.
The visitors scored first in the extra period to take the early advantage, but the Lady Bulldogs tied the score three times before Wolfenbarger’s game-winning shot with five ticks left. The game was just what would be expected from two such tradition-rich and elite programs.
On December 11th the Lady Bulldogs traveled north to Springdale to take on the Har-Ber varsity girls, winning easily in a lopsided game, 81-36. Greenwood’s aggressive defense was too much for the Lady Wildcats to cope with, allowing the GHS girls to get away with 14 steals in the game.
Offensively, Kinley Fisher scored 22 points and Ally Sockey had 15 points as Greenwood dominated the contest from start to finish. Haven Clements contributed 12 points and Madison Cartwright added 11 points for the Lady Bulldogs.
Greenwood had a slight edge on the boards, 29 rebounds to 24 for Har-Ber, but the Lady Bulldogs had many more assists, 19 to six, plus four blocked shots by the visitors. Despite playing on the road, Greenwood shot exceptionally well from the floor, hitting 51% of their field goal attempts, including a red-hot 48% from behind the three-point line.
On December 8th the Lady Bulldogs made it back-to-back victories over defending Class 6A state champions, defeating Fayetteville just five days after beating Bentonville. Like Greenwood and Nettleton on the 5A level, Fayetteville and Bentonville were each declared to be champions last March when the 6A state title game was cancelled.
The Lady Bulldogs easily handled the Fayetteville Lady Purple Dogs, 68-41, at H.B. Stewart Arena. The GHS girls hit 47% of their field goal attempts and 29% of their three-point shots. They also netted 71% of their free throws, besting Fayetteville in all three shooting categories. Most telling of all, the Greenwood defense made 19 steals in the game.
"We played two state champions in a row, and two of the best programs in the state every year," said GHS Head Coach Clay Reeves. "Being able to play great teams and great talent makes us compete hard and play hard. We are getting better for later in the season. This was a nice win."
Ally Sockey led a well-balanced Greenwood offense with a game-high 16 points. Fellow senior Kinley Fisher added 13, while juniors Abby Summitt and Megan Gray each scored nine points. Freshman Anna Trusty contributed eight points.
Greenwood fell behind 5-2 soon after the opening tip, but took a 16-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. Fayetteville was 3-of-14 shooting the ball in the period and turned it over five times. Greenwood made seven of its 15 shots in the first eight minutes.
The Lady Purple Dogs then made a run to start the second quarter, hitting their first three shots to ignite a 9-0 run and knot the game at 16-all. But Greenwood's harassing defense took control after that and Fayetteville didn't score again in the half. Greenwood led 29-16 at the intermission. Fayetteville had seven turnovers in the second quarter and finished the game with 24 turnovers, while Greenwood limited its giveaways to just seven.
"We did not function on offense very well early," noted Fayetteville Coach Vic Rimmer. "[Greenwood] bothered us with their trapping [defense]. I didn't think it would bother us as much as it did. We struggled with that."
Fisher led the GHS offense early with a team-high six points in the opening quarter. Sockey then took over in the second period, scoring nine of the team's 13 points before halftime. Greenwood scored the first seven points of the third quarter on its ways to a 48-30 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Shortly after, a 9-0 GHS scoring run made it 57-33.
Addressing his team’s balanced scoring effort, Coach Reeves said, "That's what we do most nights. We have different people pick it up at different times. Kinley [Fisher] took over in the first, Ally [Sockey] did in the second, and [Megan] Gray came in and hit some big shots in the third quarter. We give our kids the green light when they are shooting well. We want to get the ball back to them, [and] our kids did a good job sharing the ball.
"Fayetteville is always a good team," Reeves continued. "We’ve got some talent as well. For us, the big thing is we have four seniors who’ve been playing [together] since the ninth grade. That makes it easy on me as a coach. They've been through it all. They know what to do."
Two of those GHS seniors have already signed to play college basketball next season. Fisher signed with Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, while guard Shea Goodwin will be playing at the University of Arkansas at Monticello next fall. Ally Sockey could probably play college basketball as well if she weren’t such a gifted softball player. The daughter of GHS head softball coach Ronnie Sockey, she has already signed to play for the University of Arkansas Lady Razorbacks next season.