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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Hackett Asserts Dominance, Takes Lead in 3A West; Defeats Lady Eagles in Paris, 3-1

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Since joining Class 3A two seasons ago, circumstances caused the Lady Hornets to not play the Lady Eagles at Paris Gymnasium in all of their previous meetings. That ended on Tuesday night when the Hackett Lady Hornets traveled to Paris for a much-anticipated rematch between the top two teams in the 3A West. In their most previous meeting, Paris jumped out to a two-set advantage only to see Hackett come storming back to win the match at Hackett by a score of 3-2. And when it was all over on Tuesday night, it was the Lady Hornets defeating Paris by the set score of 3-1 to take the lead in the 3A West regular season standings.

Both schools’ fans showed up in large numbers, and the Lady Hornets came out on fire and ready to play. In fact, Hackett won the first two sets of the match. Paris quickly found themselves hanging on and fighting desperately to stay in the match. Paris fought back, winning the third set, and seemingly swinging the momentum in the match back to the home team. But again, it was Hackett coming out fast to go on to win the fourth set after a big effort by the Lady Eagles that saw the fourth set tied late. Paris was never able to get over the hump late in the set, and Hackett went on to win the match, three sets to one.

Hackett was impressive with how they came into a hostile environment and took the match to Paris. But perhaps most impressive, was the play of their back line defenders. The Lady Hornets made key digs on several hard kill shot attempts by Paris, keeping the ball alive and allowing their front line to reset for the kill. Hackett has seemingly perfected the “pancake” save where their back line players fall on the floor and extended outstretch arms on the floor to allow them to get a hand under the ball and prevent the ball from hitting the floor. The Paris crowd was upset on several occasions when they thought the balls had hit the ground on several Paris shots, but, the Lady Hornets used the pancake saves to save many shots that may have otherwise resulted in Paris points.

The match was not without its controversial calls from the chair. On several occasions, Hackett coach Bridget Freeman, the Hackett crowd, and the Paris bench and crowd complained about controversial calls or no-calls from the chair. Neither coach was carded, but it created a loud and raucous atmosphere inside Paris Gymnasium.

Schools around the league had quietly commented throughout the summer that this would be a “reloading” year for Hackett, and this might be the year to make a run for a conference and / or state title. Freeman is playing a few young players in her starting rotation, and by all indication, the Lady Hornets will be even stronger in the post-season when star junior high players are moved up to the varsity roster. All in all, and for whatever it is worth, my vote is for Bridget Freeman as Coach of the Year. The Lady Hornets have won two state championships over the past two years in two different classifications, and at this point in the season, they have to be favored to repeat as Class 3A state champions. A lot can happen in the post season, and teams only have to win four matches in state to be crowned as state champions, but the Lady Hornets are a well-coached team, and if Hackett wins a state title this year, they may be on the verge of winning two or possibly three more over the next three seasons. That is heady stuff, and if Freeman and the Hornets win three more state titles, that will be five in five years, and that is Arkansas Coaches Hall of Fame material.

Hackett may be the best team Paris has played all season, and that includes the larger classification schools Paris has either played or defeated this season. In fact, Hackett is good enough, in my opinion, to win state titles this year in Class 2A, 3A, 4A, and / or possibly 5A.

The two teams could possibly meet again in the 3A West district tournament, the state tournament rounds in Paris, and / or in the state finals in Hot Springs. Again, a lot can happen, and there are some good teams out there such as Little Rock Baptist Prep that could have something to say about all of this. But for Paris, this is one more tough, emotional loss the team must quickly put behind themselves. Most of their team goals are still in front of them and are still obtainable. But one thing is for sure, it will be a test of the mental toughness of the Lady Eagles moving forward. In other words, in the words of Alabama coach Nick Saban, it is “So what? Now what?” time for Paris. The losses have happened, now how will Paris respond?

The Lady Eagles won’t have much time to decide their direction. The Lady Bulldogs of Waldron will come to Paris on Thursday, and Paris must be ready to play a Waldron team that always plays hard. It won’t be long before we find out what direction the Lady Eagles will choose to do. If I were a betting man, I would wager that Paris will bounce back and begin the final push to finish the regular season no lower than a #2 seed, and then on to the district tournament.

Photos from this game will be posted on Facebook at Paris Eagles Sports no later than Friday. Until then, Resident Press will see you again in Paris for complete coverage of the Lady Eagles’ game with Waldron.

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