Every team knows, the road to a championship in 3A Volleyball in Arkansas runs through Paris. After their third consecutive title, many thought there may be a transition period under first-year head coach Jordan Devine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paris came out swinging from their first reps in team camps before school even began. They replaced key slots in the rotation, and most days were filled with a lot of individual work after practices ended.
It paid off.
The Lady Eagles went on an improbable run, dropping only five sets all season, only dropping one regular season game, and another to 6A Alma in a short set tournament match. They totaled 32 wins, the most of any school in the state. For those that don’t know the sport and do not have a point of reference for the accomplishment, each game is a best of five sets. If you sweep a team, you win 3-0. In 35 games, Paris dropped one set to a 3A school and none in the State tournament.
How the week unfolded:
Paris was the host for the 3A State Tournament, and they did it with style. In the opening round, they faced another powerhouse team in Episcopal Prep. The school administration allowed students to attend, and school spirit was in full effect. Paris has possibly the only student section that travels to most every game and is made up of students from every part of the student body. They are known around the state for their third set rollercoaster, something you just have to see to appreciate.
With the gym packed and loud, the Lady Eagles came out in tournament form, sweeping Episcopal 25-17, 25-5, and 25-4. They would turn around to play yet another perennial power in Walnut Ridge. Paris took the game in straight sets, 25-20, 25-20, and 25-17. That set up a matchup that many were anticipating. Paris would face Fountain Lake for a chance to go to Hot Springs for the finals. The two had faced in the preview match to open the season, where the Lady Eagles took the single set.
Paris may have had their best game of the year against the toughest team they would play. The Lady Eagles put on a clinic, not just winning, but winning in style. With Ashdown watching to see who they would face, Paris took down the Cobras 25-14, 25-19, and 25-13. It was all business as they punched their ticket to their seventh consecutive title appearance. The student section enrolled the help of many of the home fans, as hundreds rode the third set rollercoaster celebrating the milestone, including Lady Eagles Super Fans Bentley and Carolyn Allen.
Paris would advance to play Ashdown in the 3 p.m. slot in Hot Springs on Saturday. Ashdown was an upset winner over last year’s finalist Hoxie. Ashdown was very athletic, but they tended to feed one key player, something the Lady Eagles have shown they can exploit.
Ashdown would keep things close much of the match, but the Lady Eagles pulled away late in the first for a 25-16 win. In the second set, the student section rotated around the arena to the Lady Eagles end of the floor and cheered relentlessly as the Lady Eagles took the second set 25-19. The third set was tight, and Paris even fell behind late in the match. With their set streak on the verge of ending, Paris rallied. The speakers boomed with the words “Championship Point” as the Paris crowd held their breath before erupting in an ear-shattering roar as the Lady Eagles spilled on to the court and into a dog pile in the middle of the arena. Paris is now the leader in consecutive appearances (seven) and consecutive titles (four) for the state of Arkansas.
Head Coach Jordan Devine let out a scream, then simply smiled while slapping five with first-year assistant Josh Hart and getting a hug from longtime Eagle Assistant Jerry Fulmer. Ryleigh Hardwicke was awarded tournament MVP in her fourth appearance in the tournament.
Paris played a freshman in every game of the state tournament, proof that it is more than a streak. Paris is a dynasty. The Junior High Program won their conference season title and tournament before having three players move up for the Varsity postseason.
As parents finished up their pictures and grabbed the last of the championship memorabilia, they strode out of Bank OZK arena, got in their cars, turned back toward Paris where they would continue the tradition of a police escort around the town square, officially starting the Drive for Five.