Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

SPORTS >>Cabot volleyball coach in third decade

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The sport of volleyball among high schools in Arkansas has changed drastically in the last three decades; just ask Cabot Lady Panthers head coach Terry Williams. She has been there for all of it.

Williams came to Cabot in 1977 fresh from graduating at Arkansas Tech University. She went to college to prepare for a career as a basketball coach and physical education teacher, but fell into what she now considers to be her true calling.
Now in her 30th season as coach for the CHS volleyball program, Williams has endured every conference shuffle, rule change, scorekeeping adjustment and technique re-naming to come along, while racking up a host of accolades along the way.
“The first years I was here, they actually used a clock during the matches,” Williams recalls. “When the ball went out, they blew the play dead, and the clock would stop. I didn’t like that very much; I was kind of glad when they did away with that.”
The late ’80’s and early ’90’s were her ultimate heyday, racking up two consecutive state championships in 1989 and 1990, and winning the overall title in ’90 as well en route to an unheard of 28-0 season. Her strongest player that season, Sarah Dearworth, went on to be named conference MVP, and earned a scholarship to Murray St.

The exact number of tournament wins and titles are not known to Williams. She did a scan of the trophy case in the Panthers gym in preparation for her feature, but found that there were so many trophies in the shelves grouped so close together, she could not read all of them to identify what trophy came from where without having a key to actually open the case and pull each one out. A problem many coaches in the state would undoubtedly love to have.

Some coaches that have been a part of one sport for a lengthy period of time can sometimes get stuck in what is known as ‘the good ole days’ mode, but not Williams. She is a big fan of many of the changes that have happened in high school volleyball throughout the years. Even the ones she didn’t like at first have come to grow on her.

“The game has gotten a lot looser over the years,” Williams said. “They used to call you for a double hit if it so much as grazed your shoulder. They let things like that slide a little more now. It helps make the game more exciting. It doesn’t make it any sloppier, just a lot more action.”

Williams had difficulty adjusting to the universal scoring system adapted a few years back. Points could only be earned on serve until three seasons ago, when the new rule was implemented that whoever won a particular rally earned the point.
“I didn’t like it at first, but now that I’ve had some time to get used to it, I guess it’s not so bad,” Williams said. “It kind of took away the chance for those big comeback rallies, but it does make the game a lot more fast paced.”

The mid ‘80’s were also very productive for Williams and the Lady Panthers. They won three-consecutive conference titles from ’84 to ’86, and reach the regionals of the state playoffs each year. In all, she has led Cabot to seven conference titles along with the two state crowns, and finished runner up to old conference rivals Jonesboro on at least nine occasions.

Williams, almost frustratingly humble, says the quality of the players were the key to the squads success during those years.
“They were just good athletes,” Williams said. “They had that mind frame that they just weren’t going to lose. They were expecting to win every time they got out on the court.”

While Williams didn’t seem to mind reminiscing on the past, her eyes brightened and her speech accelerated when the topic turned to this year’s Lady Panthers squad. Anyone who might consider calling Williams a ‘has-been’ has probably not taken a very close look at the Cabot volleyball program in 2006.

Fresh off a very strong runner-up performance at the Russellville invitational tournament last weekend, the Lady Panthers are beginning to have the look of a powerhouse team. They beat Harrison and Russellville in straight games during their first two bracket matchups. Then immediately after the Russellville match, they bested Alma in three games before meeting perennially tough Mt. Saint Mary’s in the tournament finals.

Williams believed the team could be good from the start of the season, but now believes they can be great.
“We are at a point now that on any given day, we can beat anyone, or be beaten by anyone,” Williams said. “So much of volleyball is momentum; you can beat yourself very easily.

“We just have a lot more confidence than what we had last year, and it shows up in our playing. We have improved so much even from the start of this season. They are finding the court really well. I thought we would do pretty well this season, but after Saturday, I think we are in a lot better shape than I ever imagined.”