Entering the 2014 volleyball season, Clayton coach Marlon Lee faced what would appear to to be a daunting task.
In 2013, the Comets roared to a 17-4 record, and shared the regular-season Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title with perennial power Garner. The task before Lee was to replace eight players off of that team, blending them with just five returnees, of which only one is a senior.
The assignment has gotten off to a quality start for Lee and the Comets, who with a three-set triumph Thursday night over GNRC rival Rolesville moved to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the league.
Sporting a roster that includes seven juniors, five sophomores and one freshman, the Comets are quickly coming together while learning the ins and outs of Lee’s system.
“They are getting valuable experience,” Lee said following Clayton’s 25-9, 25-7, 25-16 triumph. “The front row, the back row, all the way down to our liberos.”
Lee praised everyone on the squad, saying the victories have been team efforts thus far.
“We are trying to get into a clicking mode,” Lee said. “We lost here (Aug. 28) to Knightdale, but picked up a little confidence when we went to Garner and swept them on their floor.”
That sweep of the Trojans, Lee said, has given his team a much needed shot of confidence, after watching a two sets to none lead and a 24-20 advantage in the third set slip away in a 3-2 defeat to the Knights.
“I think that was our wake-up call,” Lee said. “I hope we are ready to make another run.”
Looking at the stats proved a point Lee continually stressed about his team — that it was that — a team.
The Comets even have two liberos to rotate as needed: Olivia Owens and Carsey Sutton.
Owens transferrred from Corinth Holders, and started against the Rams, while Sutton, up from last year’s jayvee squad, played the third set.
“It’s dog-eat-dog on the court,” Lee said. “If Olivia is not having a good game passing the ball, we can put Carsey right in the lineup, and vice-versa.”
Lee also pointed out another newcomer to the Comets fold via transfer: Brittany Oschner, who performed last season at St. David’s.
“The big surprise for us thus far has been Oshner,” Lee said. “She’s a power hitter — everyone else in our line-up is doing exactly what we need them to do.”
Other newcomers are sophomores Cari Sutton and Emma Sheldon; and juniors Bailey Waddell, Chelsey Neptune, and Keitland Carter. The lone senior is Kennedy Paine, whom Lee said sets the table for the Comets. “Everything revolves around her,” Lee said.
Throughout the match with the Rams, a second year program, the Comets used the mixture of a strong service game, solid play on the back row and a powerful front line.
“I think we served our first two times into the net,” Lee said. “I told the girls, they didn’t need to worry about getting aces, just put the ball in play and hopefully the other team will mess up.”
That strategy goes for stronger opponents, as well as not trying to put the ball away on each possession with powerful kill shots.
“I have challenged Kennedy to try and place the ball for points, to find the open holes, not just to settle for kills,” Lee said. “Use tips, dinks and other plays that will get the ball down where the opponent scrambles.
“It isn’t about hitting the ball 100,000 miles per hour all the time. Sometimes you have to find the open spot — Rolesville did aid a great job of blocking our shots tonight, and we weren’t there to cover at times. I told the girls, it ain’t about them and what they do. It’s about us.”
The service game pleased Lee, noting he had several players who could enter the game and serve six-to-eight points in a run, particularly Jessica Daughtry. The Comets recorded one ace in the opening set, then 10 in the second set and seven in the finale.
Daughtry had four consecutive aces in the second set, while Perdue added three out of four serves in one stretch.
“Everyone steps up,” Lee said. “It isn’t a jayvee thing, and it isn’t a varsity thing.
“It’s a Clayton volleyball thing. And that’s the mentality we are trying to have.”