GARNER — Garner’s volleyball team continued its unbeaten run atop the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference on Tuesday but not without a challenge from West Johnston.
The Trojans, who extended their unbeaten streak in the conference to 44 games, had their hands full in the first two games, then went on to sweep the Wildcats 25-16, 25-21, 25-13.
“I told them before the game [West Johnston was] going to be ready to play,” Garner coach Jason Boyette said. “And we were ready to play, too. We kept our composure, and the players did their jobs.”
Garner (14-3, 10-0) has won three straight conference championships, with West Johnston (18-4, 8-2) the No. 2 team in the league in each of those three seasons.
Garner swept West Johnston on the road on Sept. 6, but the Wildcats went to Garner’s gym determined to make it a battle. And they did.
There were seven ties in the first game, the last time at 13. The Trojans then went on a 9-1 run to pull away. Junior Kaasha Jefferies had two kills, and senior standout Kristen Powell one during the crucial stretch, and Powell ended the game with a kill from the back line.
The second game was even more of a duel. The score was tied six times, and it was knotted at 21 after a service ace by West Johnston’s Halle Eicher. Garner’s Nyah Miller-Hines hit a winner to get the serve back for the Trojans, and Madison Stewart served out the match.
“They are a great team, and I feel like we played our hearts out,” West Johnston senior setter Morgan Boyles said. “I definitely think it was a better match than the last one. We hung in there better for sure.”
Powell, a middle hitter who has committed to play volleyball at UNC-Wilmington, led the Trojans with 13 kills and also had four aces. Kelsey Bryan had six kills and Jefferies four. Courtney Weathersbee had 22 assists.
The Trojans had an edge in the long rallies, keeping the ball alive and eventually finding a way to score.
“It’s just court experience,” Jefferies said. “You don’t always have to kill the ball; you just have to know where they aren’t. I enjoyed playing that game, the competitiveness of it. It was fun to be out there playing.”
Powell said she and her teammates expected West Johnston’s best shot, and had to be at their best.
“We knew they were going to be ready to beat us this time and that it would be a battle,” Powell said. “We stepped it up higher than we were down there.
“You have to have patience. They were going to dig balls. You just have to wait for your opportunity and then kill it. It’s all about patience.”
Garner snapped an eight-game winning streak by West Johnston for the second time this season.
“I felt like we were ready to play tonight,” West Johnston coach Jerry Hogan said. “When they are at their best, they are a doggone good team. But so are we. They had the home crowd; it was hot in here. It was a little bit more than we could overcome.
“I’ve got no complaints about the effort from my girls tonight, especially the first two sets.”
Two conference games remain in the regular season, and if the two teams keep playing the way they have all season, a third meeting could be in the cards for the conference tournament final.
“We played great defense,” Boyette said. “We got great digs from whoever was on our back line, everybody. … We serve received very well and passed great.
“I told them if we do our job, we will be playing them in two weeks [in the conference finals].”