BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas women’s basketball signee Jenna Lawrence (6-3) of Farmington has experienced the highs and lows of a state championship game in her high school career and would like one more shot at it.
As a freshman and sophomore at Melbourne in 2019 and 2020, Lawrence was part of a program that won two Class 2A state tiles.
Lawrence move 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 championship thrill of victory turned into the agony of defeat as 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 just remember the shot going in,” Lawrence said. “I remember the floor, because I was watching the bench, and it was just shaking and it was just heartbreaking.
“That is my fuel this year. I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t want to feel that again, especially the sophomores. We are sophomore-led pretty much and and they don’t know how it is to go into the state tournament and to be in a state final game. So I am just telling them what is about to happen and getting them prepared for everything.”
Lawrence and Farmington – a program that is 112-14 in the past four years – appear to be championship contenders once again this season after moving to 23-1 Monday night with a 73-20 home win over Berryville.
Her 23 points was more than the entire Lady Bobcats’ output and followed up her 20-point effort in the Lady Cardinals’ 67-31 rout over Prairie Grove on Friday night.
Lawrence, 124-6 in her high school career and with only one home loss since beginning organized basketball in the third grade, was honored before the Farmington-Prairie Grove game as a McDonald’s All-American nominee and for topping 2,000 career points.
“We are playing really good right now,” Lawrence said. “We just came off a win – when was it Friday? – where we played really, really well. I am proud of our team, proud of our consistency and I am proud of how we are playing together.
“We have had a few tough games, but sometimes we just always seem to take a dub (win) by at least 20 points every game and I am super proud of that.”
Farmington head coach Brad Johnson, whose team plays at Pea Ridge on Friday night, is obviously a big fan of Lawrence, who averaged 18 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game as a junior.
“The great thing about Jenna, and obviously her talent is immense, but she is always one of the hardest workers we have day in and day out,” Johnson said. “She’ll do everything. You can be an hour and a half into practice in January and she’ll dive on the floor for a loose ball and just make all kind of hustle plays. It is just infectious for every other kid.
“The amount of time she spends in the gym on her own is incredible. Her teammates kind of feed off of that, too. She is just a really quality human being and it is really easy to root for those kids. She are certainly really proud of her.”
Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors is excited about Lawrence’s future in his program beginning next season.
“She has versatility and size to skill ratio,” Neighbors said. “She is a legit 6-3 and we are not going to have to stretch or fudge or put her in tall shoes to get her to 6-3. She can play both ends of the floor and has a beautiful release on a elevated jump shot the she can shoot coming off screens.
“She is not a kid that needs a lot of space. She’s a worker, too, and I don’t think is ever close to where she can get. The higher level she goes, the transition she makes, she’ll just continue to get better and better.”
Lawrence is understandably excited about joining 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 any way that I can. It’s crazy and I a super excited.
“This is my senior year and I am taking it all in, but I also have to remember I have four more years and have a chance to make a lot of new memories. So I am just trying to take it all in.”
Farmington’s lone loss this season was to Overland Park’s Blue Valley North in a tournament on Dec 10.
The addition of 6-3 sophomore Zoey Bershers this season has been a welcomed one 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 make packs (blocked shots). I don’t even know how many packs I have this year because I have been relying on Zoey. If they get past me, I know she is going to be there.
“I am really proud of Zoey and how she has been doing on the defensive side and the offensive side. I know that I can just throw it into her from the side and I know she is going to score.”
Farmington’s point guard is junior Reese Shirey, the daughter of former Razorback hoops star, Arkansas assistant coach and Hall of Honor member Amber Nicholas Shirey and Farmington baseball coach Jason Shirey.
“I am super grateful for Reese,” Lawrence said. “She is a great player and a super passer and shooter and does about everything for us, She is a big contributor. If we didn’t have her, we wouldn’t get the ball up as smoothly.”
Lawrence takes pride in bring an all-around player.
“I love scoring points, but also love making passes and making the crowd go ahhh,” Lawrence said. “I like packing people, I like playing defense, getting stops. I think my game is more than just scoring, but obviously that is a big part of it. I like to contribute to all sides of the game.”
Photo by John D. James