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story.lead_photo.caption Kat Cooper (at left) is one of three Springdale Har-Ber volleyball players who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus earlier this season. The Lady Wildcats had matches cancelled for two weeks and more than half their team was quarentined. But they are back together now and ready to compete for the Class 6A state title this week. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T.WAMPLER)

SPRINGDALE -- Springdale Har-Ber volleyball coach Cassie Loyd said everyone has dealt with covid-19 in some fashion this year, but it's been especially tough for her and the Lady Wildcats.

Three members of the team tested positive for the virus and more than half were quarantined for two weeks because of contact tracing. The Lady Wildcats (9-4) played only seven of their scheduled 14 6A-West Conference matches and were off from competition almost an entire month because of covid-19.

But they are excited for the chance to be competing for the Class 6A state title this week.

Har-Ber, the No. 3 seed from the West, will take that first step when the Lady Wildcats face Bryant, the No. 6 seed from the Central, tonight at 6 at Fayetteville's Bulldog Arena in the opening round of the state tournament.

It's been nearly two months since the ordeal began and she got calls from her players about testing positive for the virus. But Loyd remembers the calls from each player.

"It's been pretty gut-wrenching honestly," Loyd said. "It happened on back-to-back-to-back days. It all happened mainly in two weeks, so when it rained, it poured on us.

"The first thing is I just felt sick to my stomach thinking: A ... I hope they don't get sick; B ... I hope they don't take it to their families; and then C... especially for kids who are upperclassmen, they just lost a portion of their season. So those calls were extremely hard to stomach because of those three things alone."

Because of the positive tests and quarantine, Har-Ber had as few as 11 of 29 players and less than half most of the two weeks they canceled matches. Juniors Maddux McCrackin and Kat Cooper were two of the players who tested positive for the virus.

Cooper, a 6-foot-1 all-state middle blocker with multiple D-1 college offers, decided to get tested before going on a couple of college visits.

"I was just feeling a little off and had been to school," Cooper said. "I checked in with the nurse and she thought it was allergies but I didn't want to campus and expose people, so I went and got tested and tested positive.

"That was a little rough just knowing that I had it and I was gonna have to miss a whole bunch and quarantine other people. I"m just glad I went and got that done."

Cooper was caught totally off-guard though as her plans for college visits and life, in general, was put on hold for a couple of weeks.

"It was so weird because it was so unexpected," Cooper said. "I was sure I was gonna get tested and I was gonna be negative. I was sure I was fine."

Luckily neither player became terribly ill. McCrackin said she lost her sense of smell for a bit while Cooper had a sore throat for a couple of days.

McCrackin, a defensive specialist who plays back row for the Lady Wildcats, was already quarantined after being exposed to other people who had covid-19, but the loss of her sense of smell is what prompted her to get tested.

Even though neither player experienced many physical symptoms, both said the mental strain of being in quarantine was difficult.

"It was crazy that the pandemic that everyone's worried about, I have that," McCrackin said. "It was a little scary.I was worried about if I gave it to other people and I would feel terrible if they got sick.

"Also you never know where you got it from," Cooper added. "It's crazy how many people are walking around being a carrier and not even know."

The days in quarantine somewhat ran together, Cooper said. But they credited parents, coaches, teammates and friends with helping them cope.

"We both had Zoom calls with our friends and we shared how it was affecting us," Cooper said. "We just checked up on each other.

"I remember one night there was like 20 of our friends from the team and stuff and we were just talking about what day do we come back," McCrackin added.

It was also tough for Loyd, whose husband, Andy, is a teacher and coach as well. They took precautions because of their two young children, not to mention their parents.

"All around it's stressful," Loyd said. "Going back to those first couple of weeks was stressful thinking about my two babies I'm doing what I believe I'm called to do, but also you have to keep your family first and that's been an adjustment for sure."

Most of the team returned from quarantine and were looking forward to getting back to action against crosstown rival Springdale High on Tuesday, Oct. 6. But Loyd got a phone call on Sunday afternoon while her players were having an open gym workout.

Springdale would not be able to play on Tuesday because of covid-19 concerns. It was another crushing blow for group that had already endured two weeks out from competition.

"I told my assistant Katie, I don't want to tell them," Loyd said. "They were having such an awesome practice."

Despite players and coaches alike scouring for another opponent, Har-Ber were unable to play on Tuesday. Instead, the Lady Wildcats were off almost an entire month from competition when they took on Bentonville West on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Har-Ber dropped a pair of hard-fought five-set matches over the last week to two-time 6A state runner-up Fort Smith Southside. But Loyd said his team has come together remarkably and is ready to battle for a chance at a state title this week.

"They are amazing kids," Loyd said. "They are so positive and kind to one another. I've never had a group of kids where there isn't some rift somewhere.

"It's been a huge benefit though when people weren't staying positive, they had people who had their backs. They had people who held them accountable and helped them get their minds right and that's special."

More News

State Volleyball Tournament Pairings

Class 6A

At Bulldog Arena, Fayetteville

Today’s Matches

Match 1 No. 4-West Bentonville High vs. No. 5-Central Mount St. Mary, 9 a.m.

Match 2 No. 3 Central North Little Rock vs. No. 6 West Bentonville West, noon

Match 3 No. 4 Central Fort Smith Northside vs. No. 5 West Rogers High, 3 p.m.

Match 4 No. 3 West Springdale Har-Ber vs. No. 6 Central Bryant, 6 p.m.

Wednesday’s Matches

Match 5 No. 1 Central Conway vs. Match 1 winner, 9 a.m.

Match 6 No. 2 West Fort Smith Southside vs. Match 2 winner noon

Match 7 No. 1 West Fayetteville vs. Match 3 winner, 3 p.m.

Match 8 No. 2 Central Cabot vs. Match 4 winner, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s Matches

Match 9 Match 5 winner vs. Match 6 winner, 1 p.m.

Match 10 Match 7 winner vs. Match 8 winner, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s Match

At Bank of OZK Arena, Hot Springs

Championship Match, 2 p.m.

Class 5A

At Greenwood

Today’s Matches

Court 1 (Volleyball Gym)

Match 1 Benton vs. Nettleton, 9 a.m.

Match 2 Lake Hamilton vs. Russellville, noon

Match 3 Jonesboro vs. Jacksonville, 3 p.m.

Match 4 Greenbrier vs. Hot Springs, 6 p.m.

Court 2 (H.B. Stewart Arena)

Match 5 Greenwood vs. Sheridan, 9 a.m.

Match 6 Marion vs. Beebe, noon

Match 7 Hot Springs Lakeside vs. Mountain Home, 3 p.m.

Match 8 Little Rock Christian vs. West Memphis, 6 p.m.

Wednesday’s Matches

Match 9: Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner, 9 a.m.

Match 10 Match 3 winner vs. Match 4 winner, noon

Match 11 Match 5 winner vs. Match 6 winner, 3 p.m.

Match 12 Match 7 winner vs. Match 8 winner, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s Matches

Match 13 Match 9 winner vs. Match 10 winner, 1 p.m.

Match 14 Match 11 winner vs. Match 12 winner, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s Match

At Bank of OZK Arena, Hot Springs

Championship Match, 11:30 a.m.

Class 4A

At Valley View

Today’s Matches

Court 1 (Junior High)

Match 1 Fountain Lake vs. Wynne, 9 a.m.

Match 2 Batesville Southside vs. Pea Ridge noon

Match 3 Brookland vs. Arkadelphia, 3 p.m.

Match 4 Harrison vs. Morrilton, 6 p.m.

Court 2 (Arena)

Match 5 Shiloh Christian vs. Pottsville, 9 a.m.

Match 6 Valley View vs. Bauxite, noon

Match 7 Pulaski Academy vs. Farmington, 3 p.m.

Match 8 Mena vs. Jonesboro Westside, 6 p.m.

Wednesday’s Matches

Match 9 Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner, 9 a.m.

Match 10 Match 3 winner vs. Match 4 winner, noon.

Match 11 Match 5 winner vs Match 6 winner, 3 p.m.

Match 12 Match 7 winner vs. Match 8 winner, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s Matches

Match 13 Match 9 winner vs. Match 10 winner, 1 p.m.

Match 14 Match 11 winner vs. Match 12 winner, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s Match

At Bank of OZK Arena, Hot Springs

Championship Match, 9 a.m.

Class 3A

At Episcopal Collegiate High School, Little Rock

Today’s Matches

Court 1 (Main Gym)

Match 1 Hoxie vs. Central Arkansas Christian, 9 a.m.

Match 2 Valley Springs vs. Charleston, noon

Match 3 Baptist Prep vs. Palestine-Wheatley, 4 p.m.

Match 4 Paris vs. Rose Bud, 7 p.m.

Court 2 (Auxilary Gym)

Match 5 Hackett vs. Dover, 9 a.m.

Match 6 Jessieville vs. Walnut Ridge, noon

Match 7 Harding Academy vs. Waldron, 4 p.m.

Match 8 Piggott vs. Ashdown, 7 p.m.

Wednesday’s Matches

Match 9 Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner, 9 a.m.

Match 10 Match 3 winner vs. Match 4 winner, noon

Match 11 Match 5 winner v. Match 6 winner, 4 p.m.

Match 12 Match 7 winner vs. Match 8 winner, 7 p.m.

Thursday’s Matches

Match 13 Match 9 winner vs. Match 10 winner, 1 p.m.

Match 14 Match 11 winner vs. Match 12 winner, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s Match

At Bank of OZK Arena, Hot Springs

Championship Match, 7 p.m.

Class 2A

At Cutter Morning Star

Today’s Matches

Court 1 (Middle School)

Match 1 Mansfield vs. Midland, 9 a.m.

Match 2 Conway St. Joseph vs. Flippin, noon

Match 3 Crowley’s Ridge Academy vs. Thaden School, 3 p.m.

Match 4 Quitman vs. Maumelle Charter, 6 p.m.

Court 2 (Arena)

Match 5 Cotter vs. Cutter-Morning Star, 9 a.m.

Match 6 Cedar Ridge vs. Lifeway Christian, noon

Match 7 Conway Christian vs. Salem, 3 p.m.

Match 8 Lavaca vs. Ridgefield Christian, 6 p.m.

Wednesday’s Matches

Match 9 Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner, 9 a.m.

Match 10 Match 3 winner vs. Match 4 winner, noon.

Match 11 Match 5 winner vs. Match 6 winner, 3 p.m.

Match 12 Match 7 winner vs. Match 8 winner, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s Matches

Match 13 Match 9 winner vs. Match 10 winner, 1 p.m.

Match 14 Match 11 winner vs. Match 12 winner, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s Match

At Bank of OZK Arena, Hot Springs

Championship Match, 4:30 p.m.

Paul Boyd can be reached at pboyd@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAPaulb.

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