Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

SPORTS >> Lonoke girls focus on hardware hunt

Ashleigh Himstedt is a senior leader as Lonoke eyes a 2-4A Conference title.

Leader sportswriter

The prize has eluded the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits for two years now — that’s the other prize.

The Lady ’Rabbits’ unsuccessful bids for a state championship the past three seasons have been well documented, but they have also finished runner-up to Bald Knob in the 2-4A Conference for the past two years.

Lonoke has gone on to defeat Bald Knob in the district and regional finals in those seasons, but victory in round-robin conference play has gone to the scrappy Tim Fulks-coached squad from northern White County.

Such a title might seem insignificant for teams which have come as close to winning the big hardware as many times as Lonoke has, but a victory over Star City last week in the final of the Beebe holiday tournament proved the Lady Jackrabbits’ hunger for any trophy is still alive.

It was Lonoke’s second consecutive championship in the holiday tourney.

“That’s also a goal for us,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “It’s something we want to win — the first goal we want to attain.

If we’re clicking well enough to win a conference championship, then the rest of them that follow should take care of themselves.”

Lonoke is already 2-0 in conference play with road victories over Southside Batesville and DeWitt before the holiday break. The Lady ’Rabbits resumed their league schedule Tuesday against Stuttgart as part of a three-game stretch at home.

Stuttgart is expected by many to give Lonoke its strongest challenge this season, but the intense rivalry with Bald Knob will resume at Lonoke on Friday, then Marianna visits on Tuesday.

“Stuttgart will be really tough, and Bald Knob is still a tradition-rich program,” Morris said. “Those kids have played against good people in practice for the past two years, and now they’re the ones out there on the court playing. They are still real solid.

“But we came out of the game at Southside winning by just three points, so it’s tough regardless of who you play. But that can help us in tournaments down the road, as well as the teams we play; we like to see everyone in this conference do well.”

The Lady Jackrabbits, 10-5, have suffered most of their losses at the hands of much larger 7A schools, but Lonoke made a statement in the semifinal round of the Beebe tourney with a victory over Conway, a team that won the 7A state championship two years ago.

“I’m real proud of that effort,” Morris said. “Those two games, we controlled it. The Conway game we controlled the whole time. The Star City game got shaky some at the end, but we controlled most of that one as well except for a few turnovers.

“We took control of those games. I liked the intensity they had and how it carried over from one game to the next. Sometimes it doesn’t carry over.”

Winning the conference championship is the first step in a long process for any team playing at the 4A level or lower. After that comes the district, regional and finally the state tournament.

Morris admitted focusing on conference and regional play and putting hopes of a state championship return on the back burner are not always possible.

“To be honest, I don’t know if you fully can,” Morris said. “I believe that game is sitting there — it can be a burden. What we have to get the kids to understand is that we don’t want to wish ourselves back into that game, because it might not be there.”