Northside makes awaited return to the 6A-West Conference this week
Northside officially returns to 6A-West this week, traveling to Bentonville West on Thursday for the opening of the Grizzlies and Lady Bears conference.
“When I first came here as a young, young man, this was the conference we were in,” said Lady Bears coach Rickey Smith. “There are so many memories from this conference. There is a lot of history in the west. The biggest thing is that our kids go to bed at normal times. If you go to Cabot or Bryant on a Tuesday night and fight that traffic, you get your kids back at 1am and that means you go early. It’s quite difficult to get her back to class at 8am the next day and be alert. This has not only influenced their behavior in class, but also our practices. We had to adapt to everything.”
Due to the 16-team alignment and long-standing policy that eight teams were required to be in a conference, Northside has been relegated to 6A headquarters for the last six years and forced to rank after Bryant, Conway, Cabot, North Little Rock, Bryant, etc ., for conference games, many of which were held on Tuesday nights.
“The Central Conference has enhanced our program and taken it to another level,” said Smith. “We were glad to experience it because you don’t really know what they’re doing until you play in it.”
Under new policies allowing configurations other than eight-team conferences in all sports except football, Northside has been included in 6A-West for the biennial cycle in the new realignment.
“I think it’s going to be good,” said Springdale Har-Ber girls’ coach Kimberly Jenkins. “It enriches our conference and makes it better.”
It made no sense why Northside should be at 6A HQ and away from Southside anyway, especially to Jenkins, who isn’t from the area and understands Northside’s fit with the West, where it’s been for almost 40 years.
“It’s a great addition to our conference,” said Jenkins. “Not only are we adding two more conference games to wiggle around and prepare for, but they’re always very competitive. It will be good for our conference to have this trip. This journey makes sense challenge. We don’t have easy games in our conference, so adding two more competitive games will only make us more competitive.”
With nine teams in conference, each team plays 16 conference games instead of 14 and it forces one team to have an open date on each game day, forcing teams to start conference play before Christmas to double the round-robin schedule to be played before the planned state tournament in March.
“I don’t like leaving the seven-team Central Conference because it affects their schedule, teams aren’t lined up to play Conway and North Little Rock,” Smith said. “We’re kind of oddballs. We didn’t really like each other at the Central because we were their only road trip that way. It was a long road trip for them, but we had to make it every trip. “
Northside’s addition to the conference also means another team will be eliminated from the state tournament as six of the nine teams will qualify. In the 6A headquarters, which remains with seven teams, six will also qualify.
“Our conference has always been well represented in the state tournaments and has always been very competitive with the Central, and now you’re adding Northside,” said Heather Hunsucker, Springdale girls’ coach. “They only take six out of nine to the state tournament. Six out of seven go to Central. So now if you add Northside and try to get in the top six, that changes the situation.”
The Lady Bears and Grizzlies are generally competitive in every conference they play in. The Lady Bears have won eight state titles since 1999, all under Smith.
Hunsucker knows. She played for Smith, who won his 700th career game as head coach at Northside in February.
“We’re looking forward to playing them,” said Hunsucker. “I love playing Northside and can’t wait to see their new gym. I told Rickey that my picture had better be up there somewhere and not lose those state tournament pictures. We are looking forward.”
The Grizzlies are also a storied team with 11 state basketball championships, with Burnett winning titles in 2017 and 2019. Northside also has two players currently playing in the NBA – Jaylin Williams and Isaiah Joe, both with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s going to be a little different,” said Bentonville coach Dick Rippee. “In the past, every team in the league played on the same night. This year there will be one team on each conference date that is a bye because there are nine teams. You’ll find ways to get away from the byes and figure it out, where it will be to your advantage. One of those nights we’re going to Springfield to play. On the other, it’s a good time to give them a break during conference season. There are a lot of new things, but kids are pretty resilient. It’s our job to prepare them.”
Twice this week
Southside opens conference play with two games in three days to start a day earlier before Christmas Eve.
Southside opens at Bentonville West on Tuesday and hosts Bentonville on Thursday before the break.
“Then we have the Coke Classic,” said Southside coach Stewart Adams. “We have a busy holiday season ahead of us. I thought we learned a few things when we went to Carthage, Mo. for a tournament last week and had two good wins this week.”
The Mavericks played three games at Carthage last week and then played three more games at the Mustang Classic in McDonald County, Missouri last week. They beat McDonald County 75-64 on Thursday before losing to Glendale, Missouri on Friday. In between, Southside went to Greenwood and won a non-conference game 64-58.
“We’ve played really well at times, as well as we’ve played at times since I’ve been at Southside,” said Adams. “We shoot the ball better. We have some pretty good goalscorers. We have to be even hungrier and show night after night that we can do it.”
The Lady Mavericks went 1-2 in the Lady Mustang Classic.
They beat McDonald County 51-37 after drawing 23-23 at halftime, losing to Bentonville West 56-53 and Springdale 59-47.
Sophia Neihouse was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Peyton Yaffe was awarded Southside’s Heart of a Champion at the Taco Bell Tournament of Champions.
Lady Eagles balanced
The Paris Lady Eagles equaled their 3A-4 record with a 53-28 win over Two Rivers on Friday.
They will be hosting Danville in a conference game and Mansfield in a non-conference game this week.
The Lady Eagles have been balanced this season with three different players putting up 20-point exits.
Annabelle Perry scored 20 points in a win over County Line last week, 6-footer Brailey Forst scored 24 points against Pea Ridge two weeks ago, senior guard Jayden Wells scored 22 points in a win over West Fork. By early November, Forst had 27 points and Wells 20 points in a win over Ozark, and Perry had 21 points and Forst 20 points in a loss to Lamar. Perry had 21 in the season-opening win over Waldron.
Both the Lady Eagles and Eagles will compete in the first games of the Bank OZK Classic on December 28th in Ozark.
ONE AND ONE
Van Buren’s two varsity teams go in opposite directions this week for a two-game set, with the Lady Pointers taking on Pottsville on Monday at Russellville’s Hoops for Hunger Classic and Tuesday’s Clinton, while the Pointers at the 12 Courts of Christmas Classic take on Kemper Arena in Kansas City against Liberty, Missouri on Monday and the undefeated AHSTW Community School, a consolidated school of five schools in Iowa, on Tuesday. … The Greenwood Bulldogs won their opener in the Veterans Arena Invitational at Tulsa Memorial, beating Collinsville on Thursday before losing to host Memorial 52-35 on Friday but trailing just 28-23 midway through the third quarter … The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs defeated Little Rock Christian 72-30 on Friday behind Mady Cartwright with 32 points. … Waldron lost his first game of the season to Dardanelle on Tuesday, 68-62, and then fell to Pottsville on Friday, 71-44. … The County Line boys went undefeated with a 73-65 out-of-conference win at Alma to improve to 21-0 on Friday.