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ALL-STARS | Beard, Persson make the difference

Local athletes made the biggest difference in the girls soccer and boys basketball games last week during the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star games at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Sylvan Hills’ Abigail Persson hit the winning goal for the East in a 3-2 shootout decision and was named Most Outstanding Player for her team.

North Little Rock’s Anton Beard was chosen MVP of the boys basketball game after the East’s 85-77 win.

With storms delaying the start of the soccer game and threatening afterward, the game was shortened to one half. Regulation ended 0-0, and the first round of penalty kicks ended 2-2.

The West team’s sixth shooter went first and missed.

That left Persson up.

“I knew if I made the shot, I would win the game,” she said. “I was a little nervous before, but I thought, ‘I know what I have to do; just get it done.’”

Persson’s game-winning goal came against her long-time friend, Jessica McCauley of Central Arkansas Christian, goalkeeper for the West.

Her heroics proved that this time, father didn’t know best.

“I ran up there, put the ball down, and I was going to go to the right corner, but when I started running to the ball the goalie moved right so in the middle of my run-up I switched sides,” Persson said. “She left the other side open, so I kicked it into the left corner.

“My dad has coached me my whole life, and his rule is, ‘Never change what side you’re going to go to.’ But I changed that one in the middle.”

Persson and McCauley, along with North Little Rock’s Lillian McEntire, grew up together playing their sport before heading to separate high schools. Ironically, they thought they’d be on the East team together until McCauley was switched to the West as the rosters were finalized late. She found out she’d paly for the West the day before she left for camp.

“She had a good attitude about it,” Persson said of scoring against her old friend. “She was really nice about it, told me, ‘Good job,’ shook my hand.”

McCauley said she overthought the situation.

“Of all the times I’ve watched her, I figured that she only goes to her left, so I was like, ‘Maybe since she knows I know, she’ll switch it up,’” McCauley said. “I jumped the gun too early.”

Still, All-Star Week was a blast, she said.

“I met a lot of great girls and really fun people,” she said, adding that Kasey Smith of El Dorado, her West teammate, would join her at Ouachita Baptist in the fall.

Beard made five field goals and both of his free throws for 14 points, including nine in the second-half to lead the East’s rally from seven points down.

The University of Arkansas signee had already helped the Charging Wildcats to a second straight Class 7A state championship. This marked the fifth straight by the East in the All-Star series.

Other All-Star results included:

• a split in the baseball doubleheader, with the East winning the first game, 5-4, and the West taking the second, 7-6;

• a West sweep in softball, 5-1 and 3-1;

• an East sweep in volleyball, 25-10; 25-21; 25-8; 26-24; and 15-7;

• a 1-0 West victory in boys soccer (5-3 on penalty kicks);

• an East blowout in girls basketball, 80-58;

• and a 23-14 West decision in football.

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