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story.lead_photo.caption MARK HUMPHREY GAME JOURNAL

Farmington (12-1-1, 7-0) stands first among 4A-1 volleyball teams with three weeks left in the regular season on the heels of an unprecedented, 25-17, 25-23, 27-25, sweep of Shiloh Christian on Oct. 1.

Farmington coach Mike Howard is in his second year at the helm of the program after taking over last season for Marshall Ward, who left to take a teaching job at Haas Hall. Ward coached some really competitive teams guiding the Lady Cardinals to 5A State tournament bids twice in 2014 and 2016, but he never witnessed anything like this.

"We haven't swept Shiloh before, but we also haven't gone to Siloam Springs and beat them at their place (21-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-21, on Aug. 27) or swept Alma at their place (25-15, 25-11, 25-19, on Sept. 3); or gone undefeated in the conference either so we've been telling these girls this is the year of firsts for Farmington in volleyball," Howard said. "There's six girls on the court and they're earning every bit of it. I can only applaud their effort and their dedication to the game and they deserve all the credit."

Thus far the Lady Cardinals have only lost two sets during league play including an early season match against rival, Prairie Grove (25-14, 25-18, 21-25, 25-12) on Sept. 5 at home; and against Pea Ridge (25-20, 25-21, 22-25, 25-21) on Sept. 10 also at Cardinal Arena.

Pea Ridge tested the Lady Cardinals on a Tuesday, but Howard said they kept their cool in the heat of battle after playing Prairie Grove the previous Thursday.

"We know what its like to play at home and play against a conference rival," Howard said. "We know that if we play out of control with only emotion that we commit a little bit more errors than we would playing under control and with a cool head. We stressed it in practice this week and we talked about it pre-game and throughout the match. We know, 'Hey, if you panic, if you play over-intense and a little hyper-ecstatic then you're going to make some errors and they're going to get free points so we try to be cool and under control and consistent the whole time."

Farmington likes to use big kills down the stretch to get an opponent on the ropes, then put them away. The Lady Cardinals don't seem to get rattled, which according to Howard reflects the personality of the volleyball squad.

"That's kind of the mantra of our team. Our attitude, our identity, we're not going to stress over something that just happened. We'll learn from it and move on to the next point because dwelling on the last point isn't going to help us. We can learn from it and we can adjust and that's on me as a coach, and out there they're playing for the next point because the next point's the most important point," Howard said.

In other 4A-1 matches, on Sept. 12 Farmington swept Gravette on the road, 25-18, 25-18, 25-16; and did a number on Gentry, 25-6, 25-20, 25-23) on Sept. 17 followed by a Sept. 24 sweep of Berryville (26-24, 25-18, 25-22); and a Sept. 26 whitewash of Huntsville (25-14, 25-12, 25-10).

Farmington's only loss of the season occurred during a Sept. 7 tournament hosted by Alma. The Lady Cardinals defeated West Fork, 25-13, 25-9; and Clarksville, 25-6, 25-8; earned a tie against Hackett, 18-25, 25-24; then suffered a two-set loss to Paris, 25-20, 25-19.

Howard wants the players to keep a cool head, which enables them to consistently make clutch plays while benefiting from an opponent's unforced errors as they did against Pea Ridge.

"We stress in practice that if we are in system and we like the offense we can swing away and if we're out of system we're going to put pressure on the other team," Howard said. "We're not going to hit the ball out. We're not going to try to kill a ball from 20 feet off the net. We're just trying to put it over and in and find a spot where it's hard to pass from and then trust our defense, our blocking and our back-row defense is second to none. I like our odds playing against other team's offenses, too. We know that we play with that mentality that if it's there take it, if it's not be smart with it and I think it showed throughout. Once you stretch out this match, this match tonight it showed."

MARK HUMPHREY IS A SPORTS REPORTER FOR THE ENTERPRISE-LEADER.

Sports on 10/09/2019

Print Headline: Farmington Volleyball Becomes League Leader

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