BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas women’s basketball signer Jenna Lawrence (6-3) of Farmington has experienced the ups and downs of a state championship game in her high school career and would like another chance.
As a freshman and sophomore at Melbourne in 2019 and 2020, Lawrence was part of a program that won two Class 2A state cards.
Lawrence moved to Farmington as a junior and was a star for the Lady Cardinals last season as they advanced to play Nashville in the 2022 Class 4A title game.
But that thrill of championship victory turned into the agony of loss when Nashville’s Sidney Townsend hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left that shocked Farmington 42-41.
“The final game was heartbreaking and I only remember the snap on entry,” said Lawrence. “I remember the floor, because I was looking at the bench, and it was shaking and it was just heartbreaking.
“This is my fuel this year. I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t want to feel like this again, especially sophomores. We’re basically led by the sophomore and they don’t know what it’s like to enter the state tournament and be in a state final game. So I’m just telling them what’s going to happen and setting them up for everything.
Lawrence and Farmington — a program that has been 112-14 for the past four years — appear to be championship contenders once again this season after jumping to 23-1 on Monday night with a 73-20 home win over Berryville.
His 23 points were more than the entire Lady Bobcats production and followed his 20-point effort in the Lady Cardinals’ 67-31 loss on Prairie Grove on Friday night.
Lawrence, 124-6 in her high school career and with only one loss at home since starting organized basketball in third grade, was honored before the Farmington-Prairie Grove game as a McDonald’s All-American candidate and for passing the 2,000 mark career.
“We’re playing really well right now,” said Lawrence. “We just came off a win – when was Friday? – where we played really, really well. I’m proud of our team, proud of our consistency and I’m proud of how we’re playing together.
“We’ve had some tough games but sometimes it seems like we always take a double (win) of at least 20 points a game and I’m very proud of that.”
Farmington coach Brad Johnson, whose team plays Pea Ridge Friday night, is obviously a big fan of Lawrence, who as a junior averaged 18 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 stop in game.
“The great thing about Jenna, and obviously her talent is immense, but she’s always one of the hardest workers we have day in and day out,” Johnson said. “She will do anything. You can be an hour and a half in practice in January and she’ll be diving on the floor for a loose ball and just playing all kinds of fast-paced games. It’s just contagious to every other kid.
“The amount of time she spends in the gym alone is incredible. His teammates also feed on this. She’s just a really quality human being and it’s really easy to root for those kids. Surely she is really proud of her.
Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors is excited about Lawrence’s future in his program starting next season.
“He has versatility and a ratio of size to ability,” Neighbors said. “She is a true 6-3 and we won’t have to stretch or confuse or put her in high tops to get her to 6-3. She can play on both ends of the floor and she has a beautiful release on a high jump shot that can shoot off screens.
“She’s not a little girl who needs a lot of space. She is also a worker and I don’t think she is ever close to where she can get to her. The higher level that she reaches, the transition that she makes, she will keep getting better and better.
Lawrence is understandably excited to join the Arkansas program next season.
“I think the program is doing very well,” Lawrence said. “…I am very proud of them and I am ready to contribute in any way I can. It’s crazy and I’m super excited.
“This is my last year and I’m taking it all in, but I also have to remember that I have four more years and the chance to make a lot of new memories. So I’m just trying to absorb it all.
Farmington’s only loss this season was to Overland Park’s Blue Valley North in a tournament match on December 10.
The addition of sophomore 6-3 Zoey Bershers this season has been welcomed by Lawrence.
“Last year, it was just me at 6-3 and Morgan Brye at 6-foot maybe,” Lawrence said. “So I had to rely on myself to stay in the lane and pack (blocked shots). I don’t even know how many packs I have this year because I trusted Zoey. If they pass me, I know she’ll be there.
“I’m really proud of Zoey and how she performed defensively and offensively. I know I can just throw it to her side and I know she will score.
Farmington’s point guard is young Reese Shirey, the daughter of former Razorback hoops star, Arkansas assistant coach and Hall of Honor member Amber Nicholas Shirey, and Farmington softball coach Jason Shirey.
“I’m very thankful for Reese,” Lawrence said. “She’s a great player, a super passer and shooter and she does everything for us, she’s a great collaborator. If we didn’t have her, we wouldn’t lift the ball so easily.
Lawrence prides himself on carrying a well-rounded player.
“I love scoring points, but I also love making passes and driving the crowd crazy,” said Lawrence. “I like packing, I like playing defense, making stops. I think my game is more than just scoring, but obviously that’s an important part. I enjoy contributing to all sides of the game.
Photo by John D. James