Arab Lady Knights' state championship run falls just short

The Arab High School volleyball team, with the AHSAA Red Map trophy they won last Wednesday at Birmingham.

It would be a shame if the 2022 Arab High School volleyball team is remembered for what it didn’t do.

Because, what it did do was pretty spectacular.

The Lady Knights won 5A, Area 14 (regular season and tournament), almost unscathed. They reached the finals of the 5A North Super Regional in Huntsville. They repeated that effort in the state tournament last week, and lost to the only team that had their number this postseason, Westminster Christian, the fairly unanimous No. 1 team in 5A all season after winning the 4A state title last year.

The team could play.

But so could Arab. Time and again, Arab – ranked fifth in the state in the final poll – went up against higher-ranked teams, and won.

It was just that last hill to climb, twice in two weeks, that ended the Lady Knights’ season at 49-14.

There are no moral victories in sports, but there is hardware to recognize and honor valiant teams like Arab. In this case, the Lady Knights carried home the AHSAA Red Map trophy as Class 5A runners-up. It’s a worthy addition to the Arab High School trophy cases.

Head coach Amy Hudson said afterward, “We are disappointed in the results (today), but…these girls know they have nothing to hang their heads about. They just played on the biggest stage it gets in high school sports, and they handled themselves with grace and great fight.

“I am so proud of who they are as young women, as athletes and as a team. This is a team full of top-notch teenagers that I am proud to call mine.”

Hudson sensed early on, she had a special group. With four seniors – Karli Walker, Anna McFerrin, Heather Skelton and Mollie Bishop – providing guidance, Hudson saw a future that included the talented Lady Knights peaking at just the right time.

They didn’t win every match, but the progress was there, and Hudson was patient. She could see the momentum building. And slowly but surely the team rounded into shape just as Hudson imagined.

If you saw how they played in the regional and state semifinals and finals, you’d know that’s the truth. As Hudson’s husband – and biggest fan – offensive coordinator Chad Hudson said after it was all done, “It was a fun ride.”

But the way Hudson sees it, that ride doesn’t have to end. The seniors will be missed but the cupboard is far from bare.

“Anna McFerrin has been our starting setter for three years. She is a fierce leader above all else, but a fantastic setter as well. We are definitely going to miss her at that position,” Hudson said.

“We have a very talented rising setter in our eighth grader, Millie Lackey, who is going to be able to step in and fill Anna´s shoes well.

“Karli Walker is one of our middle hitters that has been a significant presence on this team since she was in the eighth grade. She is a huge power in the middle and a great leader. We have several possibilities in the middle that we are looking at for next year.

“Heather Skelton and Mollie Bishop are both defensive players that are going to be missed. We have a good number of defensive players coming back and moving up that will be able to step in and play big roles next year.

“As far as next year’s team goes, we have a lot returning as a whole. Of course, our other big middle, Laney Kelley, will be a returning senior. On the outsides, we have returning seniors Sydney Ferguson, Sami Kate Hudson, and juniors Lexi Mann, and Bennett Elrod.

“We expect big things from all of them, as well as some possibilities moving up from our JV and eighth grade teams. It will be interesting for sure to see how it all plays out.”

Hudson believes the postseason run that just ended will have a carryover effect.

“Things didn’t go like we wanted them to, but it has planted a drive inside of them that is going to grow stronger and stronger,” she said. “They know what they want, and if they work like they did this year, they have a great chance to be back here next year.

“This team will have what it needs to be right back here next year and we will go to work next week in the weight room and off-season training to make sure that happens.”

Ferrin and Walker made the All-Tournament First Team and Kelley made the Second Team.

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