BENSON — Thirty-eight and counting.
Garner’s volleyball team, which has won the past three Greater Neuse River 4A Conference titles with undefeated league records, took its league winning streak to West Johnston on Thursday for a meeting with the team that has finished second to the Trojans for three years running.
Clicking in all phases of the game, Garner started quickly in the first two games and went on to sweep the Wildcats 25-17, 25-11, 25-20.
“Every game, I tell them, ‘The other team hasn’t beaten you in years and they are out to get you,’ ” Garner coach Jason Boyette said. “Every team in the conference wants to beat us very badly. We just came out strong today and played well.”
The Trojans (8-1, 4-0 conference) jumped to a 14-2 lead in the first game and 9-2 in the second, using 22 kills from senior Kristen Powell and 21 assists from junior setter Courtney Weathersbee to control the action.
“They covered their spots well, they played defense well and they passed excellent,” Boyette said. “Early in the season, we struggled with passes. If Courtney gets a good pass, she’s going to get a good set and somebody is going to get the kill.”
West Johnston (11-2, 3-1) got eight kills from Halle Eicher and all of the team’s 17 assists from Morgan Boyles. Libero Shannon Bolyard contributed a strong all-round game.
The Wildcats’ undoing was on the long rallies, something coach Jerry Hogan said his team hadn’t faced too many times in rolling to its 11 early-season wins.
“To me, I thought [Garner] had more energy than us in rallies,” Hogan said. “I think that goes back to some wins we have gotten fairly easily. Previously, when we get a good swing, point’s over. Tonight, I thought (Garner) did a good of getting balls up, staying in the point and continuing to put pressure on us.
“I think we grew a little bit impatient, a little bit frustrated. I felt like they won all the long points.”
Garner had its stopper in Powell, a six-foot senior. Whenever West Johnston would string together a few points, Powell seemed to rise up at the net and put a point away. Powell, who has committed to play at UNC-Wilmington next fall, mixed strong spikes with well-placed touch shots that found holes in the middle of the West Johnston defense.
“You have to mix it up,” Powell said of her assortment of spikes and dinks. “You tip it and bring them in and then you hit it hard to the corner. Court vision is something you have to work on. It takes time.”
And it helps to have a setter like Weathersbee, who takes as much pleasure in the kills as her front-line hitters.
“I love setting.” Weathersbee said. “Not getting the glory doesn’t bother me. I love doing what I do. When they get a kill, it’s like I get a kill. We bounce off of each other.”
For the Trojans, continuing the streak is important. But their main goal is advancing to the playoffs and making it past the second round. The Trojans have been beaten in the second round the past two seasons.
“No Garner team has gone beyond the second round,” Boyette said. “Maybe this is the year. You never know.”
For West Johnston, a veteran team looking to unseat the Trojans from its perch atop the league, the goals remain the same as they did at the beginning of the season.
“We have been very competitive with Garner in the past,” Hogan said. “During my three years here, I am 22-9. Of those nine [losses], five were to Garner.
“We set three goals for this season: we want to win the conference this year, want to beat Garner this year and we want to finish the season stronger than we began. I think all three goals are still on the table.”
As is Garner’s conference winning streak – 38 and counting.