Lady Mohawks Fall in Elite Eight of 3A State Tourney

Thursday, November 7, 2013
First year coach Nikki Speer with her players prior to their senior night contest at PHS. (Photo courtesy Frank Staples Photography)

The Lady Mohawk volleyball team began a new era this fall, with a new head coach and assistant at the helm. But, the talented Tribe never missed a beat as they finished the season strong and made it into the second round of the state 3A tournament before falling to eventual finalist Paris.

When longtime coach Melissa Williams announced she was leaving the post to assume a job as assistant at Paragould it was only days before volleyball practice was set to begin. This pressed former Lady Mohawk standout, and softball and golf coach, Nikki Speer into service. Tabbed to serve as her assistant was Melissa Hopkins-Turner, in her first coaching position.

But, Speer did have the benefit of a seasoned bunch of players and several returning All-State selections. And to her credit, she made the best of the situation and garnered some spectacular results. Leading the conference from wire to wire, and weathering a late season loss at CRA, the Tribe took the 3A-Northeast title outright and earned a spot in last week's state tournament at Harrison.

Entering the bracket as the winner of 3A-Northeast, the Mohawks drew a first round set with the Lady Tigers of West Fork and ground-out a five set win last Tuesday, Oct. 28.

This earned the Mohawks a second round set with Paris, who had advanced to the second round with a win over Green Forrest Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday evening the two teams squared-off in the Elite Eight, and the Lady Eagles were able to hold on in five sets to advance to the final four.

The first set went to the Eagles 25-20, but the Tribe rebounded in the second and took it 25-19. The back-and-forth continued in set three, as it went to Paris 25-23, and again the Mohawks responded with a 25-17 set to knot the match at two-all. But, in the tiebreaker the Lady Eagles held strong and took the match with a 15-8 win.

Leading the way for the Mohawks was McKenzie Hopkins with 17 kills and 9 blocks. Meanwhile, senior Taylor Davis ends her stellar career with 29 assists and another of the five seniors, Erica Cluck-Vancil, had 22 digs. Rounding out the effort was another senior, Kacey Crossfield, with 12 kills and 11 digs.

Afterward, Speer had nothing but high praise for her team and they way they performed throughout the season. "I am so proud of our lady Mohawks," she noted. "They worked so hard this year and accomplished some great things."

Speer, who had also played and lost in state tournament competition for the Tribe, was also greatly impressed with the way the team handled what could have been adversity concerning the change of coaches.

"For me, it was like starting over. I have a strong volleyball history, but it had been a few years since I was in that circle," she explained. "These girls took me in and trusted me, and for that alone I appreciate them."

She also pointed to the assistance of Turner, noting the job would have been impossible without the support. "I was blessed with a wonderful assistant who always kept me on top of things and organized," she added. "She was a huge asset to our team."

The Mohawks also bid farewell to seniors Jessie Scheffler and Bre Chandler from this year's squad, but return a good core of underclassmen for next season.

In looking back on the campaign Speer is optimistic, noting "I know we have great things to build on and I have high hopes for the future of Mohawk volleyball."

Hoxie and Harrisburg were also eliminated in the Elite Eight round of the tournament, and Saturday night at Russellville High Mansfield beat Paris in four sets to take the state 3A title.

On other note to complete the story, as Melissa Williams and the other former Lady Mohawks did earn the state 5A title Saturday as well. Williams, who had taken the job at Paragould in order to coach with her mentor, Angie Donner, was on the bench as the Lady Rams beat conference foe Batesville in three straight to take the championship. Also coaching for the Rams were two other former Lady Mohawk standouts, Nikki Pounds and Angie (Beck) Burnside.

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