Southeast Raleigh and Clayton, two of the three volleyball teams tied for first place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference with 5-1 records entering a Tuesday meeting at Southeast, produced a match worthy of their spots atop the league standings.
The two talented teams waged a back-and-forth battle that saw swings in momentum, outstanding rallies, strong kills and equally strong defense. In the end, Southeast followed the lead of junior Tyra Burt to a 3-1 victory that turned on a hard-fought third set.
Clayton, the league co-champion in the regular season in 2013, won the opening set 25-22. Southeast countered with a with a 25-18 victory in the second set — a duel that produced five ties before the Bulldogs pulled from an 18-18 tie to win the final seven points.
Then came a set that brought out the best in both teams. With the match tied at 1-1, the two heavyweights traded punches, neither willing to give an inch.
The score was tied nine times, including at 24-24 and 25-25. After a Clayton mishit gave Southeast a 26-25 lead, Burt served for the set and Joy Lackey scored the winner on a tip at the net that fell between the Clayton defenders for a 27-25 win.
Southeast (6-5, 6-1) rode its momentum to a 25-18 victory in the fourth set for the win.
Burt was a constant throughout for the Bulldogs, playing well in all phases of the game. She finished the match with 19 kills and nine aces. Whenever the Bulldogs were in position for a solid set, they looked to the 5-foot-9 junior – and she delivered.
“Tyra is a phenomenal player,” Southeast coach Lisa Calero said. “I lost my two strongest hitters last year and she has definitely stepped up as a leader on the court. She is able to come through and put things away.”
Burt’s approach was simple, but effective.
“I just make sure I look for the open spots on the court because when you aim for the open spots they won’t be able to get it,” Burt said. “I want to be a leader on the court and keep the girls together. We lost some seniors off last year’s team and I knew I had to step up and be a leader for this team.”
While Burt was the focal point for the Bulldogs, their offense was not a one-player show. Joy Lackey had six kills, Tiffany Dunham four and Kristen Weathersby and Kleo Torres three each.
Calero, who was propped up on the sideline on crutches because of a badly sprained ankle, smiled through the pain after the big victory.
“They played phenomenal tonight,” she said. “The biggest thing with my girls is communication. They talk off the court but not always on the court. Tonight, they were able to pull it through and talk. They did well.”
Clayton (7-3, 5-2), a young team which has only one senior on its roster and starts a freshman and two sophomores, got eight kills and five service aces from freshman Brittany Ochsner and five kills from sophomore Bailey Perdue.
“Credit Southeast,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “Our mental mistakes, the missed serves and the bad passes … against a good team, that is what is going to happen. Once Southeast got a good play, that momentum led them to some other great plays.
“We’re a young team. This was valuable experience. We’ll see them again. There is not really one dominant team in the conference.”
Knightdale entered Tuesday’s play as the third team with a 5-1 record. Look for more battles like Tuesday’s match in the second half of the season, Calero said.
“Knightdale and Clayton are still going to be the teams to beat second round (through the conference),” Calero said. “They are going to come out fighting with a vengeance and my girls have got to pull through.
“This win was huge for them. They can actually see the point of working together and the difference on the court when they do work together and they do talk … to be able to beat teams that we haven’t beaten in a long time.”