CLAYTON — It was the perfect time for Clayton to play its best volleyball match of the season.
Not only was it on Senior Night, but it was the Comets’ last likely chance to catch county rival West Johnston for second place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference standings and a good shot at home-court advantage for the first round of the state playoffs.
And the Comets delivered Tuesday, beating the Wildcats 25-20, 16-25, 25-19, 25-21 to gain a split of their season series.
The result, which avenged a five-set loss in Benson on Sept. 13, lifted the Comets to 13-7, 10-3 in GNRC play while West fell to 20-4 and 10-3.
“We definitely wanted and needed this,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “They’re a great team and it went five last time. There was a lot more at stake this time.
“On Senior Night there were a lot of emotions. But we’re trying to get ready for the ‘second season’ – the conference tournament and the state playoffs. And tonight the girls stepped up when we got down.”
Clayton led after taking the lead for good at 12-11 in the first set, but the Wildcats scored the first four points and never trailed in the second. The Comets went ahead for good at 8-7 in both the third and fourth sets.
“The third set was their set,” West coach Jerry Hogan said. “But with the first and fourth sets, I felt like we were playing our game and had them on defense.
“We just made some service errors and attack errors at the wrong times, and with rally scoring we just didn’t have time to make up for them. We had a lot of energy, but it didn’t always transfer to great volleyball.”
One of the biggest kills in the game was from Clayton senior Nicole Bond, whose slam gave her team a 24-19 lead in the third set.
“Senior Night is always a big game,” said Bond, who verbally accepted a softball scholarship to Northwestern. “But the fact that it was West made it bigger, and the fact it was for second place made it even bigger. We wanted this one really badly.
“We want to play at home again. We had the No. 3 seed (for the state tournament) last year and had to go on the road, so we don’t want the No. 2 seed to slip through our fingers again.”
If West and Clayton finished tied in the regular-season standings, the conference tournament will determine who gets the No. 2 playoff seed and that first-round home date.
One key to the Comets’ win was the serving of junior Ali Orringer, who served five straight points in the third set and 11 straight in the fifth. In the latter streak, she began serving with a 7-4 deficit and was finally broken with a 14-8 lead.
“I’ve been serving well all season,” Orringer said. “I got a lot better over my travel ball season, and that has helped my game a lot placing the ball better.
“We really wanted to win for the seniors. I’ve been playing with them for three years now, and it’s been awesome. This is a big rivalry, so it’s a great feeling to win this one.”
Eboni Robinson had 16 kills and three blocks for West, while Megan Gibbons had 10 kills and eight digs and Shannon Bolyard 12 digs.
“We played really hard, but our passing wasn’t up to par,” West senior setter Morgan Boyles said. “We were hitting out a lot. “We’re big rivals, this is their Senior Night and they really wanted to win.”