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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Hackett Makes Statement in 3-0 Sweep of Paris in Class 3A State Volleyball Championship Match

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It was the rematch that high school volleyball fans wanted to see in Class 3A. It was the Hackett Lady Hornets and the Paris Lady Eagles meeting for the third time this year; this time at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. And this time, it was for a state championship, but the match was won by Hackett in the same dominant fashion as their second meeting in the finals of the 3A West conference tournament.

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Hackett swept Paris 3-0 in a match that was never really close until Paris attempted a comeback in the third set. But the dominant Lady Hornets squelched any attempt by Paris to make a game out of the championship match in the third set, and went on to win their second consecutive state title and its first in Class 3A. Hackett, in its first year in class 3A, finished the season as both district and state champions with just one loss on the season.

Hackett’s Rain Vaughn (15) and Jamye Durham (11) Block a Shot at the Net Against Paris (Resident Press Photo)

Hackett started the match with a run in the first set that forced Paris to play from behind for the entire match. Although Paris had played extremely well in the first three rounds of the state tournament, it was Hackett who carried their momentum from Little Rock into the championship game in Hot Springs. Hackett contested every point and rarely let a ball hit the floor on the return for the entire afternoon. Paris seemingly had no answer for the Hackett front line, and the return of Hackett serves.

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Hackett, the defending Class 2A champions from 2019, entered the 2020 season as a member of the Class 3A West. The Lady Hornetts were a championship-expreienced team that looked at home on Saturday on the bright stage of the championship game. The Lady Hornets brought a level of energy and confidence that Paris could not match.

Hackett’s Madeline Freeman (10) Was Named Tournament MVP (Resident Press Photo)

Although Hackett will graduate seven seniors who have been instrumental in winning two state titles, coach Bridget Freeman has built a powerhouse program that has a good junior high program that is developing into the next varsity team that will undoubtedly keep the Hackett tradition going with respect to being very competitive at the state level. The Lady Hornets, according to the State Finals program, will return seniors Madeline Freeman, Kenadi Wright, Shayla Foster, Kadence Glass, and Sarah White in 2021. Hackett will again be a force in the 3A West in 2021.

As the Lady Hornets ran onto the floor and jumped into a big dog pile to celebrate another championship, Hackett senior Madeline Freeman was awarded the tournament’s most valuable player award. Freeman’s award and the state title wrapped-up a near perfect season for the Lady Hornets and made the statement that Hackett can be argued as one of the best volleyball programs in Arkansas across all classifications.

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Hackett fans can be extremely proud of this outstanding group of seniors who have brought state championships to their community. This group of seniors will always have the distinction of having won state championships in two classifications, and in doing so, have paved the way for the future of the program. In a volleyball program that is still relatively young, Coach Freeman and her program have made a huge impact in a very short period of time in the sport of high school volleyball in Arkansas.

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For the Paris Lady Eagles, the 2020 season was an up and down experience that started with a very young team in August that had very little experience playing together on the varsity level. The Lady Eagles gained momentum throughout the season as the team began to gel and form a cohesive unit. But as it has been well-documented this fall, the team was forced into quarantine for two weeks during the final month of the season.

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The Lady Eagles played three very tough non-conference opponents in Fort Smith Southside, Mena, and Hot Springs Fountain Lake. The team took losses in each of those matches against larger classification schools, but the experience paid off for Paris as they became “tournament-tested” in the non-conference games and was set to make a run through the state tournament.

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And a run they did make…the Lady Eagles marched through Little Rock with three straight wins, not losing a set during the first three rounds of state. Their conference rivals, the Hackett Lady Hornets, were busy running through their side of the bracket, and when the week was over, both Hackett and Paris were set for an epic showdown in Hot Springs for the state title.

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But the young Lady Eagles were a little inconsistent throughout the year, which is characteristic of a young, inexperienced team. And in two of three matches played against Hackett, the Lady Eagles were dealt devastating losses that were not close. By doing so, Hackett has sent a message to Paris that they are now the dominant program in both the 3A West and across 3A, and the Lady Eagles will have to go back to work to prepare for another season next year, and for a chance to measure themselves again against the Lady Hornets. Paris will return key seniors Alyssa Komp, Kasse Appleton, Jacee Hart, Akira Robinson, and Melodie Lo in 2021. Juniors Maggie Richey, Brailey Forst, Rachel O’Neal, and Reagan Lowery will form a solid Paris Lady Eagles team that gained valuable experience and will give the Lady Eagles a chance to make another state run in 2021.

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Paris fans should remember that other programs, such as Hackett, have not won state championships until their teams have been made up of predominantly juniors or seniors. The exception this year was in Class 2A with the Mansfield Lady Tigers who were undefeated and made short time of their match with Lavaca for the state title. In fact, with the graduation of seniors at Hackett, and the underclassmen of Paris, one could make a strong argument that Mansfield could be the best volleyball program in classification below 4A heading into 2021. The Lady Tigers were undefeated with largely a sophomore group of players, and the “word on the street” is that the Lady Tigers have more top-level talent coming up from junior high next year to join the team. Mansfield could be a very strong contender for a state title over the next three to four years.

Paris’ Brailey Forst (13) and Alyssa Komp (3) Will be Key Returners for the Lady Eagles in 2021 (Resident Press Photo)

But that is a story for another time. The 2020 volleyball season was one of the most unusual in its history as teams navigated the COVID virus and the week-to-week uncertainty of if they would even be able to play. Other than the disappointments of the fans and players who lost state championship games in all classifications on Saturday, it was a celebration of having had the opportunity to play a season that very well could have been canceled and never played. And for the seniors for the Hackett Lady Hornets, what a tragedy that would have been.

Congratulations to the Hackett Lady Hornets who have won the 3A state championship, and congratulations to all of the state tournament teams for a great season!

I hope you have enjoyed the season as much as Resident Press has enjoyed bringing it to you!

Photo Credit: Wikepedia
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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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