Basketball: Lady Mustangs look to peak in 2022

At 0-3, Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs are off to an unfamiliar start to the season.

Since Steve Quattlebaum’s tenure began at Mustang Mountain in the 1995-96 season, CAC has won four state championships and, until 2021, had reached the state tournament every year since 2000.

Paid subscriptions make this reporting possible

Subscribe if you like, pay if you can

But having graduated their star, Bethany Dillard, the lone holdover from the last state title in 2018 now at Union University, the Lady Mustangs are having to adjust to figure out how to score and defend without her.

“We’re going to be pretty good before it’s over with, but we’re not very good right now,” Quattlebaum said Monday. “We’re off to a little slow start. I thought we’d play a little better than we’ve played this early. Losing somebody that did so much for us like Bethany did, we expected to play a little better.”

CAC lost benefit halves with Springdale Har-Ber and Lonoke, and then fell twice at a tournament at Lamar to Bentonville West, 60-42; and the host Lady Warriors, 70-52. 

The Lady Mustangs fell to Pulaski Academy on Tuesday, 68-47.

Against Bentonville West, the Lady Mustangs fell behind after one quarter, 12-7; and by halftime, 34-20. They trailed after three quarters, 48-26.

Riley Bryant led CAC with 19 points and four rebounds. Ava Knoedl, who has signed with Mississippi College, added seven points and two steals; Reese Shepard added seven points and three steals. Stella Smith pulled down nine rebounds and added two blocks and one steal.

Against Lamar, the second quarter put the Lady Mustangs down by 35-24 at halftime after they led after the first, 13-11. CAC pulled within 47-40 after three, but Lamar won the fourth quarter, 23-12, for the 18-point victory.

Bryant led again with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block. Knoedl had eight points, three rebounds and two assists. Livian Burton added eight points, six rebounds and two blocks. Shepard had six points, eight assists, seven rebounds and one steal.

Pulaski Academy outscored the Lady Mustangs in every quarter, leading by 19-12 after one, 34-22 after two and 49-32 after three.

Knoedl led CAC with 25 points and four rebounds. Bryant added 15 points and eight rebounds. Burton had eight rebounds, two blocks and two assists.

Quattlebaum said he expected Riley and Knoedl to be the leading scorers this season.

“Ava’s struggled a little with her shot, but she’s getting used to not having Bethany out there,” he said. “She’s got the best defender on her and all the attention. It’s been hard for her to get good looks. Riley’s looked good. Reese is back and has played pretty well. Livian and Stella are back.

“We’ve got five kids that played a lot. All of them started games last year. Before the year’s over, we’ll be pretty good. We’re getting some of these games in right now that we didn’t get last year that would’ve helped prepare us for that regional (where CAC lost in the opening round to miss a state tournament berth.) It’ll pay off at the end.”

The Lady Mustangs will play Mountain View at Bergman on Monday.

Quattlebaum is looking for that improvement to start.

“I’m not panicked yet,” he said. “I am a little concerned. We’ve been so poor defensively. We only played 17 games last year, but we had only one quarter where we had a team score 20 on us. We’ve already had several of those this season.”