Clayton prevailed in a battle of Johnston County tennis unbeaten teams Thursday, topping Cleveland 8-1, but the clashes between both schools’ top-seeded players were the story of the afternoon.
Cleveland sophomore Victoria Dixon, a state 3A singles championship qualifier as a freshman, and Clayton sophomore Carmelle Joyner split the first two sets of their singles match, then engaged in a lengthy third-set tiebreaker. Dixon prevailed there when she sent a winner to the far left side of Joyner’s side of the net that the Comet standout got to but couldn’t direct into the corner of Dixon’s side of the net, giving the Cleveland standout a 14-12 decision.
It was the first battle of two scheduled this season between the two players who veteran Clayton coach Ken Stivason calls “the two best sophomore players Johnston County has ever seen.” The two teams will meet again Sept. 18 at Cleveland.
Joyner, the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference individual champion as a freshman, and doubles partner Katherine Riley battled back in doubles play against Dixon and Bailee Holleman to get a victory. Hollemen and Dixon rolled out to leads of 5-2 and 6-3, but Riley and Joyner won the next four games in the match to pull ahead 7-6. The Comets’ tandem would eventually win, 9-7.
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Both teams played without one starter Thursday, both due to illness.
Clayton (8-0) won in straight sets in each of the remaining five singles matches. Riley was a 6-3, 6-0 winner at No. 2 over Hollemen. Sydney Rushing (6-3, 6-1 over Madison Foulke), Stephanie Wilder (6-2, 6-2 over Leah Gilchrist), Hannah Kellum (6-1, 6-0 over Kayley Clifton) and Andrea Villasuso (6-0, 6-0 over Ally Knowles) also won for the Comets.
Doubles play saw Rushing and Villasuso win at No. 2 by a 8-5 count over Foulke and Kayla Smith and Wilder and Kellum take a 8-6 win over Sarah Sims and Gilchrist.
The loss dropped Cleveland to 3-1 on the season.