Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SPORTS>>Lady Bears’ net asset

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

They say that only left-handed people are in their right minds. Sylvan Hills senior southpaw Courtney Luth is not only in her right mind, she’s a potent right-side hitter for the Lady Bears volleyball team, a position she’s held since her sophomore season.

The 5-foot, 10-inch Luth, who earned all-tournament honors in last year’s 6A state volleyball tournament, as well as conference honorable mention, confounds her opponents with her unique, effective style.

Her right arm raises up in position to strike, but is quickly replaced by her left arm delivering a crossing swing that usually hits its target and often catches her opponents off guard and out of position.

“I don’t even know what I do,” Luth said. “I remember hearing coaches after I get that first kill. They’ll go, ‘She’s left-handed,’ so they have to adjust. I guess it’s always been a big plus for me to be left-handed.”

Now as captain of the Lady Bears, she leads this year’s 5A-Southeast Conference championship winner into the 5A state tournament in Wynne, and looks to be a strong candidate for first team all conference honors in 2008.

Luth has played since age five, starting in the recreational leagues before moving up to the more elite junior-Olympic volleyball beginning her sophomore year. That’s also the same year she got the nod from Sylvan Hills head coach Harold Treadway as starter on the varsity team. Her junior Olympic endeavors began in Jacksonville, as a member of the Central Arkansas Juniors before moving to the Little Rock Juniors last year.

“Her outlook on volleyball is positive, because it’s real serious to her,” Treadway said. “But she has a positive outlook on life.

She’s always upbeat. Even after our roughest games, she comes in the next morning and has a smile on her face.”

As of now, however, there is surprisingly limited buzz for Luth (3.0 GPA) among college coaches. Lyon College has expressed interest, but Luth said that wherever she goes, she wants to keep playing, even if she has to walk on.

“I’m not really worried where I go, I just want to play volleyball,” she said. “That would make me work harder to prove myself.”

The Lady Bears earned a No. 2 seed out of the 6A-East Conference last year, but took a straight-games loss to Texarkana in the first round of the state tournament.

After losing All-State player Megan Gwatney and two other key seniors at the end of last season, Treadway hadbig shoes to fill in a number of positions. Although he had a proven talent in Luth, he had only two players with any varsity experience, making her presence on the court even more critical.

“People asked, ‘What are you going to do now?’ but I lose somebody every year,” Treadway said. “Some years, they contribute a little more than others. Next year, I hope somebody asks, ‘What are you going to do without Courtney?’ because she has been an important part.”

A coach can go one of two ways in planning for the season: Play a soft schedule and pick up some easy wins, or play a level about your talent and gain first-rate experience.

Treadway, facing a smaller and perhaps even saltier 5A Southeast Conference that included a fundamentally-sound Mills team, along with upstarts North Pulaski and Beebe, chose to take on the tough teams.

The Lady Bears suffered through a series of tough losses to start the season, and went into conference play with a 0-4 record.

“Sometimes it was stressful,” Luth confessed. “I would be standing on the floor in some of those early matches saying this is not how I imagined my senior year. It was very hard for me in the beginning, and I struggled a little bit.”

But the Lady Bears began to flourish when the conference schedule came around, and a season that started in frustration quickly turned around into a dream season. Sylvan Hills technically went unbeaten through the league when a loss to Mills was reversed due to an ineligible player.

Luth has many fans, but none as dedicated as her parents Todd and Kelly Luth. Todd is a big supporter who attends virtually all of her matches, and Kelly even serves as scorekeeper at SHHS home events. Older brother Cameron is currently enrolled at the University of Nebraska.

Luth also looks at the world of athletics from another perspective as sports editor of the yearbook, and also serves as entertainment editor of the school paper.

She will soon attend a journalism conference in St. Louis, though Luth is interested in physical therapy as a possible career.

Her part-time job is also sports-related at Sherwood Sports Complex baseball and softball facility, where she has chosen to dispense Gatorade and nachos from the concession stand rather than suit up.

“I played softball, soccer, track, basketball – I did all that,” Luth said. “But I was taught volleyball by a foreign exchange student I had when I was five years old, and it’s just always stuck with me. I love it. It’s amazing to be out there when you hit a ball, and it’s all on you. I love that feeling. I love volleyball.”

The Lady Bears met for one more practice on Monday afternoon before preparing to make the trip to Wynne yesterday for their first-round match with Paragould. If Luth was sweating the outcome, she certainly didn’t show it.

“I was up all night last night,” Luth said. “I played the whole match in my head. I do that a lot, where I’ll just sit there and play matches in my head, trying to think of new things to make us more successful. That’s all I think about. There’s no nerves. I’m so excited.”