CLAYTON — With a difficult non-conference schedule behind them as well as a tough loss to perennial conference power Garner in the opening week of league play, the Clayton volleyball team had its best practice of the season the day before hosting fellow Greater Neuse River 4A Conference member Southeast Raleigh.
Supporting the claims that endless numbers of coaches have proclaimed to endless numbers of teams over the years, practice did indeed make perfect as the Comets swept the Bulldogs in three sets (25-11, 25-16 and 25-15) to move to 3-5 overall and 2-1 in the GNRC.
“We had a great practice yesterday and it definitely carried over to today,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “Now’s the time when you’re trying to separate yourself and to be one of the top teams, you’ve got to win at home.
“We were able to get a good home win.”
Clayton relied on its serve to build momentum in the first set.
Ashley Murphy, Ali Orringer and Kennedy Paine all spurred the Comets on by holding serve and reeling off at least five points in a row to take command.
Murphy, who also totaled nine kills for the evening, served out the final seven points (including three aces) of the set to take the 1-0 advantage.
Southeast Raleigh (1-3 in conference) had a tough time with its transition game as the Bulldogs were often unable to work the ball into good attacking position after receiving serve, which resulted in many free balls being lobbed back over the net.
“We’ve only been together for about two weeks now and we’re still trying to feel each other out,” first-year coach Shante Nelson said, referring to taking over the team after a coaching change just two weeks ago. “We’re all adjusting right now and trying to figure out what works.”
What did work for Southeast was getting the ball to setter Jade Phillips who more often than not found Tyra Burt (eight kills). Phillips assisted on six of those.
Brianna Tyson led the Bulldogs with nine digs.
On the other side of the net, Nicole Bond and her service game caused havoc for the Bulldogs for the duration of the match. The senior recorded six aces to go along with her four kills.
Libero Jenna Harris dug 11 balls for Clayton, while Orringer dished out seven assists.
Lee hopes the tough early season schedule and benchmarks achieved in practice will help the Comets move towards the top of the pack in the GNRC.
“I told the girls those games were to get prepared for the conference,” Lee said of his squad’s non-conference schedule that included losses against Cleveland, Corinth Holders, Fuquay-Varina and South Johnston. “Yeah, we wanted to win but that tough competition is the reason why we’re able to play the way we are and bounce back the way we’re doing now.”