The hospitality room at Buzz Bolding Arena was decorated nicely by volunteers with a Halloween theme.
The decor was punctuated with a giant fake spider on the door. It looked so real you’d freak if you saw it in your house.
“Have a Spooktacular day,” the sign read.
The atmosphere Thursday for the 7A state volleyball semifinals was spectacular — band and spirit groups at an electric pitch.
The Lady Cats came out like monsters and dominated Springdale Har-Ber, 24-14, and continued spectacular play at the net and in service to go up, 2-0, with a 25-18 victory.
Then, Conway’s home court turned into a haunted house as the Lady Wildcats swept the final three sets, winning the fifth, 15-12, after the Lady Cats had surged to leads of 8-5 and 10-8.
Deja vu was spooky. Har-Ber advanced to the 7A state championship game at Hot Springs by defeating Conway in five sets for the second straight year. Last year, the decisive set was 15-12.
It was a great high school volleyball match with the final three sets played in tightrope tension. Both teams played well enough to win. Har-Ber had the last surge.
“The final set was just gutting it out,” said Har-Ber coach Shyrah Schisler. “Conway is a very good team and you can tell how hard they work and that they play for each other. We knew in that fifth set we had to outgrit them on every play.”
“That fifth game was a battle of wills,” said CHS assistant coach Andrea Bailey Fournier. “It could have gone either way several times.”
Going into the semifinal match, the Lady Cats had only lost one set in an undefeated run to the 7A Central Conference title.
They were not experienced to playing five-set matches. It’s not that the Lady Cats melted down the stretch, they just didn’t have the experience in continually fighting through the momentum shifts and intensity of an extended match.
Other than Conway, the Central Conference is weak, too weak to give the Lady Cats a serious challenge during the regular season. When the Lady Cats would win the first two sets, they could coast.
Not Thursday against a perennial 7A power. They lost their edge and never fully got it back.
Matches such as Thursday happen regularly in 7A West. As an example of how tough the West is, Fayetteville finished third and lost both of its conference matches to Bentonville. Thursday, Fayetteville won the match that really counted defeating Bentonville, 3-1, to advance to the state championship against Har-Ber, which finished second behind Bentonville in 7A West.
“These girls are used to being down and they’ve learned to fight through that and get better as the match goes along,” said Schisler.
On other words, the Lady Wildcats can take a punch or two or three.
But Thursday, the Lady Cats also proved awfully resilient. They responded blow for blow the final set.
It hurts to fall short.
But they can be proud of the extended effort. The match had championship, style, intensity, feel and rising tension.
“It’s the type of match you like to see,” said Schisler.