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Newport Independent - Newport, AR
  • Lady Hounds headed to state, make history

  • Historians note that today's present will one day become tomorrow's history.
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  • Very seldom do the actions of today become instant history.
    However, for one group of local Newport girls, they achieved history Saturday evening in Cave City.
    The Newport Greyhound volleyball team, breaking a three-way tie for the fourth - and final - conference spot into the state tournament, defeated Pocahontas and Trumann to qualify for the first state berth in program history.
    "I'm excited.  We are all excited to go to state.  It is a big ordeal for girls athletics here at Newport," said Coach Natalie Martin after her squad clinched their first state tournament trip.
    "The program is six years old, it is my fifth year and the fourth year for the varsity.  I have just kind of told everybody that this is a Cinderella story."
    The Lady Hounds knocked off Pocahontas 25-9, 25-23 and 26-24 in a dramatic three-set win.
    "There was a three-way tie for fourth place between us, Pocahontas and Trumann because we had all split, so to go to state we had to beat both teams," the coach explained.
    Following their victory over the Lady Redskins - and a 15-minute break - the Lady Greyhounds rode their momentum to a 25-16, 25-23 advantage after the first two games of their match with Trumann.
    However, the Lady Wildcats took a seven point lead in the third set trying to extend their season.  But, the Lady Hounds erased the deficit serving out the set in a 26-24 win.
    "When we won everyone rushed the court like we had won the World Series.  I was crying, the girls were crying, everyone was crying.  It was a good feeling," Martin noted.
    Perennial powers Valley View, Westside and Brookland had already qualified for the state tournament and are among the favorites for the 4A crown to be decided in Harrison next week.
    Newport (11-14, 8-8) will take on Prairie Grove Tuesday Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. at Harrison and Martin expects her talented, young squad to continue to chase history.
    "We are very much improved.  This year's seniors are the ones that started the program.  They were the first ones to go seventh through 12th grades."
    She continued, "I've had them since the eighth grade."
    Martin points to very simple changes as keys to success in 2012.
    "We started off a little sloppy at the beginning of the year but as the season has gone on they have gotten cleaner as a team and they play well together.  This is the best group of girls that I have had.  They get along and they like each other.  The chemistry is very good," she explained.
    She added that her four-person senior class has also been important - both on and off the court - this year.
    Page 2 of 2 - "This year's group of seniors are serving as mentors and helping these young girls get into varsity.  The competition level in practice is amazing.  They are trying to outplay each other and it is working," she said.
    "I have Mindy (Linvell) and Tamela (Steward), both seniors and both heavy hitters.  Both of them are also great blockers.  Then we have those sophomores watching them and mimicking what they do."
    Fellow senior Ashton Madden is described by Martin as the team's most consistent server as well as a key to the defense.
    "Ashton can read the ball and anticipate where its going.  Then you put Ally Grace (Hutchinson) right next to her and they work really well side-by-side and communicate well."
    She continued, "The camaraderie is so good and I think that is the biggest change in the time I've been here.  Since I've been here, we have been athletic at times but now we are athletic but we also know how to move, where to move, how to communicate and just understand the game a lot better.  They look great when they play."
    New assistant coach Jordan Rupard has also helped Martin and the Lady Hounds elevate their game.
    "She has been great.  She sees things that I can't see and that extra set of eyes has been great.  She has helped me out a lot," Martin said.
    A summer program of Junior Olympic (AAU-style) volleyball has also been instrumental in the improvement at NHS with a number of girls on both the junior and senior high levels playing competitively during the spring and summer aside from school.
    With increasing fan and school support as well as growing numbers in the program a solid foundation has been built to serve the program in the future.
    "Even though I'm losing four great seniors, we should still be pretty good next year and moving forward in the future.  We have 10 sophomores and two juniors on the squad this year, so 16 total and they are very talented," Martin noted.
    Four ninth graders will move to the senior high squad next year to keep the numbers relatively the same as well as bring another level of excitement.
    "You can tell that a lot of these girls just love volleyball.  They want to learn and get better and that is a huge difference."
    Martin hopes their learning curve has not spiked this season, but even if it has, this historic group will always have a place in Newport history.
    "I've had a smile on my face since Saturday," said Martin, "I have an athletic group of girls.  Hopefully it just continues to grow from here."

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