For the ninth time in her illustrious career as Greenwood's volleyball coach, Jennifer Golden is taking her Lady Bulldogs to play for a state title.
With Saturday's appearance in the 5A championship match, Golden now wants to do something she's never done before — win back-to-back crowns.
The Lady Bulldogs (30-5-1), who won the 6A title last season, will get that chance Saturday against Jonesboro (31-3), the same team Greenwood beat to win that 6A championship a year ago. Saturday's rematch is set for 7 p.m., the final match of the day at Hot Springs' Bank OZK Arena.
"They're going to be tough," Golden said of Jonesboro. "We've been watching film on them and they're just solid all the way around. I think it's going to be a really good match-up and we're going to have to play some of our best volleyball, but I feel confident, I feel good."
Golden added that almost all of the Lady Hurricane players they saw in last season's title match have returned.
"They graduated one person last year, so they've got everybody back, all but their libero; their libero was the only one who graduated," Golden said.
On the flip side, the Lady Bulldogs graduated a stellar senior class and have only three seniors on this season's roster. But they're back again, going for a repeat state title and Golden's third at Greenwood (the Lady Bulldogs also claimed state in 2011).
"At the beginning of the season, you know what you have and you know what you've got to work with, and I knew I had great kids that worked hard and have the passion for the game and wanted it," Golden said. "They did what they needed and we are there, so we're excited."
Greenwood swept all three matches it played at the 5A State Tournament earlier this week in Jonesboro, but it wasn't easy at times.
The Lady Bulldogs pulled out a 26-24 win in the opening set of their quarterfinals against Paragould, rallied for a 27-25 win in the second set of the semifinals against Nettleton before squeaking out a 25-23 win in the third set to earn the return trip to Hot Springs.
"We played some really tough matches," Golden said. "We played two very good teams in Paragould and Nettleton and there were games where we were tied and even gotten down in points, but probably my favorite thing about this team is just their never-quit attitude."
Greenwood is led by junior hitters Camryn Presley, who leads the team in both kills (317) and blocks (126) and Zoie Benton who has 302 kills. Abby Cagle, a senior hitter, has 285 kills as well.
Junior libero Izzy Davis has recorded 490 digs and leads the Lady Bulldogs in aces with 39. Anna Johnson, a sophomore setter, is the team leader in assists with 572.
The Lady Eagles will be seeking to add more hardware to their already vast collection Saturday in Hot Springs.
Paris is going for its fourth straight state title as the Lady Eagles face Ashdown for the 3A championship at 3 p.m. A win will make the Lady Eagles (32-2) just the second team in Arkansas to have won four straight volleyball titles, with Valley View being the other school.
It will also be the seventh straight trip to the state title match for Paris, but it will be the first for Jordan Devine in her initial season as the Lady Eagles' coach.
The Lady Eagles cruised into Saturday's title match with three mostly decisive sweeps this week at the 3A State Tournament, which was held on Paris' home court.
On paper, Paris seems to have the edge in experience against Ashdown (19-6-1), which before this week had never won a state tournament volleyball match. But Devine said playing in Bank OZK Arena presents an entirely different challenge.
"This (the state tournament) is a completely different atmosphere from the regular season; Hot Springs is a completely different atmosphere than this," Devine said. "It's a huge arena, the place is wide open, it's just completely different so you never know how people are going to handle it, but we're excited."
Ashdown reached the title match by rallying from a 2-0 deficit in Thursday's semifinal to beat Hoxie.
Paris senior hitters Ryleigh Hardwicke and Joni Inman have recorded 374 and 300 kills, respectively. They're also the Lady Eagle leaders in aces, with Inman recording 65 and Hardwicke 58.
Junior libero Robyn Gossard has 307 digs, and another junior, Paiton Forbis, is the assist leader with 397.