McCollum's Column: Two teams, two coaches, two turnarounds

Sometimes, accomplishments don’t show up in the records or the scoreboard.

 

Today, we salute the coaching of Conway High football coach Clint Ashcraft and University of Central Arkansas volleyball coach Jeni Jones Chatman.

They and their staffs orchestrated major turnarounds that won’t show in the trophy case.

The Wampus Cats finished 4-8 Friday night at a 35-0 loss to defending 7A state champion Fayetteville. That was not expected. The Bulldogs are a lot better, just as North Little Rock was when it handed the Cats their only other defeat that didn’t go to the final minutes. Fayetteville and North Little Rock are the best 7A teams in the state and should play for the state title. No disgrace.

In five years with the Wampus Cats, this is arguably the best coaching job by Ashcraft and his staff because of the degree of difficulty.

Conway started 0-5 with four tough losses and one rout to North Little Rock. Those Cats faced a 5-0 Cabot team and turned their season around with one of the upsets of the season. Several in the community were wondering about an 0-fer.

You know how tough it is for an 0-5 high school teams to turn things around?

The Cats won four of their last six games with the only losses to Bryant and Fayetteville, who are still playing.

The CHS staff faced an assortment of injuries and used three quarterbacks — one, a sophomore (Jovonte Johnson) who returned to action from an injury after senior Parker Teague, who took over in the second game, was lost for the second time to injury.

The Conway coaches kept working, kept encouraging, got creative and kept the atmosphere calm and businesslike and stable around the fieldhouse.

The Cats kept plugging and fighting. This Conway team reaching the quarterfinals of the 7A state tournament surpassed realistic expectations, given the circumstances.

They went about as far as they could go.

Now, to UCA volleyball.

At one point a month ago, the Sugar Bears’ tradition-rich program was struggling mightily. It was uncertain if they would even make the eight-team field for the Southland Conference tournament, which they hosted this weekend.

Chatman and her staff reset. They opened the suggestion box to their players — and listened.

The Sugar Bears refocused and went on a six-game winning streak, defeating Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Houston Baptist, teams that had defeated them earlier (with UCA winning a total of one set), on the way to the SLC semifinals against regular-season champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, undefeated and often unchallenged in conference play.

Then, the Sugar Bears gave the Islanders one of their most competitive conference matches of the season in losing in four sets, 25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-22. The Islanders have rarely lost a set in conference play this season.

On Oct 22, UCA was 10-13. The Sugar Bears finished 16-14 and finished by giving the best team in the league a scare.

Neither Conway’s football team nor UCA’s volleyball team had a lot to tangibly celebrate after this season.

But, under adversity on an uphill climb, both teams held together and finished better than they started.

That’s something to feel good about.

 

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)

 

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