A week after basketball season ended for Central Arkansas Christian, Steve Quattlebaum, who led the Mustangs and Lady Mustangs to a combined record of 51-15, declared it a good season.
In his third season of double duty, Quattlebaum had his greatest success: a .809 winning percentage and a quarterfinal finish for both teams in the Class 4A State Tournament.
The Mustangs finished 26-6, sweeping the 7-4A 16-0 and winning district and regional championships. They won 19 consecutive games and 24 of 25 before falling to Pocahontas in the quarterfinals at Cave City, 45-31.
“Our boys would’ve had a really hard time beating Pottsville (the eventual state champion), but we’d have liked to have a chance to play them,” Quattlebaum said. “We should’ve won one more. We should’ve beaten Pocahontas.
“But really, the season was beyond expectations. It was really unbelievable. Nobody would’ve expected this.”
The Lady Mustangs, for a generation the stronger of the two programs, finished 25-9, second in the 7-4A conference and third in the district tournament. They lost to Valley View in the state quarterfinals, 64-59. Three of CAC’s losses came to Malvern, which claimed the state title over the weekend.
“It’s a little more disappointing for the girls because I thought we had a chance,” Quattlebaum said. “We should’ve beaten Valley View, and I thought we’d have a chance against Prairie Grove to get to the finals. And who knows then — Malvern had beaten us three times, but the last time they had a hard time. So there’s a little disappointment in how it all ended.”
After their undefeated run through the conference schedule, district and regional tournaments, the Mustangs were rewarded with a bye to the state quarterfinals. But that meant they sat for a week while other teams got accustomed to the state tournament atmosphere.
“That was tough,” Quattlebaum said. “We had a whole week to sit and think about what a great game we’d played (in the regional final against Monticello). I don’t like the idea that you have byes in the state tournament. Those first games are tough, and when it comes late in the week, it just adds to the pressure. It’s supposed to be an advantage, but we just didn’t take advantage of it.
“But overall, I think we got everything we could out of the boys.”
The Mustangs will play next year without graduating seniors Beau Barnes, Dylan Sherrill, Josh Holland, Travis Byrne, Logan Stafford and Jacob Laney — and Quattlebaum, who will give up his double duties to concentrate on the Lady Mustangs. Matt Hall will take over the boys program next year.
“That senior class has accomplished a lot and is a special group,” Quattlebaum said. “We went through a lot of tough times early and eventually it paid off. They have a good nucleus coming back next year. Even though they didn’t play a lot in games, there are some juniors who contributed in practice and will be ready to play, and the sophomores are better than I thought they’d be. They’re going to be better than what people think.”
Immediately after the season ended, he said he felt relieved to be lightening his workload.
“It’s 50 pounds off my shoulders,” he said. “I really enjoyed it, but it was so hard, trying to get information and video for boys and girls, trying to scout as many games as we could.”
He elaborated on his first boys coaching position after building his career as a girls coach.
“I’m a little sad to give up the boys, but you can’t do as good as job as you want to for both of them when it comes to scouting, game prep, going from one game to the next,” he said. “It’s really not fair to the kids. I think it’ll work better (with another coach), but I enjoyed it.
“One of the things that made it enjoyable was it was such a good group to coach. The kids were great, worked hard and tried to do what we wanted them to do. It was really a good experience.”
Quattlebaum, who led CAC to consecutive girls state championships in 2005, ’06 and ’07, said this season never quite fulfilled itself.
“I never felt like we ever played a great game all year, where we had everybody on the same page,” he said. “We never fully reached our potential, for whatever reason. We got a lot of good things out of the year, and when you look at it overall, we were still a pretty young team, even though a lot of them had played a lot and several play AAU.
“We’re probably a year away. We’re going to look forward to next year.”
The Lady Mustangs will graduate Kendall Krueger, Jessica Saunders and Danielle Jayroe.
“Krueger really had a good year for us,” Quattlebaum said. “She might’ve been one we could’ve played a little more at times. I thought she worked harder this year than she’s worked in the past. She tried to be a leader.”
Saunders played for the Lady Mustangs as a sophomore but was home-schooled last year. She returned for her senior season.
“She gave us a defender so Falan (Miller) didn’t have to guard the other team’s best player every game, and she hit some big shots over the course of the year,” he said. “Jayroe didn’t play a lot, but she was one who really made a lot of progress over the last three years in high school. She was a good practice player for us. She was always there, always worked hard, and the girls respected her a lot because she didn’t get to play very much but she always had a good attitude and made our team better.”
CAC will return its nucleus of Falan Miller, Sydnie Jones and Sarah Butler. The coach hopes to have Rachel Mina back from her shoulder injury.
“And there are a couple of kids off the junior high who could help us,” said Quattlebaum, who will help chaperone a trip to Europe over Spring Break. “As soon as we get back, we’ll get ready to work for next year.”