SMITHFIELD — Even though they’re not in the same conference any more, the rivalry between Clayton and Smithfield-Selma remains pretty hot.
So when the Comets visited the Spartans for a non-conference volleyball match Thursday, they had to work pretty hard to win.
The scrappy Spartans took the first set, then recovered from two straight set losses to take a seven-point lead in the fourth before finally succumbing as Clayton came away with a 23-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-19 victory.
The win improved the Comets, members of the Greater Neuse River 4A, to 2-0 on the season. SSS, a member of the brand-new Two Rivers 3A after a long run in the GNRC, fell to 0-3. Clayton finished 13-9, 11-4 in the GNRC last season while SSS was 4-19 and 4-11.
“We started off a little lackadaisical,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “It’s just our second match, and we had a tough match against Cleveland, too. It’s still early in the season, but we’ve got to come ready to play every time.
“It’s not a conference game any more, but it’s still a rival game. We need games like this to get us ready for conference play.”
The Comets had won both meetings last season without dropping a set.
“I thought we played well today,” said SSS coach Chase Crocker, whose team is dressing only nine players on the varsity. “The first set, we looked really good with good movement and communication. We were swinging pretty well. Clayton is just a good team.
“I thought when we started fast in the fourth set it was going to be good for us, but they came back and got on a roll (overcoming a 7-0 deficit to take their first lead in that one at 11-10).”
SSS won the tightly contested first set by scoring three of the last four points, getting the winner on an ace from senior Rachel Moore.
But Clayton’s senior libero Jenna Harris, who has committed to play softball at Presbyterian next year, said the Comets were expecting a tough challenge.
“We just can’t take a game to get into our rhythm,” said Harris, who had serving runs of six and four in the final two sets including the last three points of the third. “But that’s why we play five games, to give us a chance to come back. I think as a team we got our focus back, eliminated mistakes and stopped giving them so many points.
“I don’t have a killer serve, but I was more effective later in the match. My teammates just kept playing good defense.”
SSS senior Holly Rabil was the server when the Spartans took the 7-0 lead in the fourth set.
“We saw them getting pumped up, and thought we might be able to win the fourth set if we got a good lead,” Rabil said. “I’m just excited to play other teams in the county. We’ve been playing against them for a long time, and this is the last year I get to play them.”
But that didn’t happen because of the Comets’ final-set recovery, which had sophomore Megan Homestead serving the last five points.
“We started off pretty slow,” said Homestead, who transferred after playing last season at Corinth Holders. “It took us a while to get warmed up. I was feeling a little pressure there at the end, but I’m glad we pulled it through.”