Depending on who you ask, there may have been a different time before the season started or just after it began that the team knew about how special a season it could be, but, after Clayton’s sweep over Southeast Raleigh Tuesday night (25-9, 25-14, 25-11), there’s no doubt the Comets’ record season is just that: special.
The win clinched the Greater Neuse River Conference volleyball title for Clayton (21-1, 13-1), four years after sharing the title with Garner. It’s the Comets first outright conference title since 1986, third of all-time, and 21 wins is a new season record for the program.
“I told the ladies that they deserved it,” veteran Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “They put in a lot of time: preseason conditioning and everything and putting up with me.
“It’s something no one will ever be able to take away.”
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Thanks to a Knightdale defeat over second-place West Johnston the night before, Clayton was assured of at least tying for the regular season title but quickly displayed Tuesday night that it had no intention of sharing the crown.
Bailey Perdue helped reel off eight consecutive service points to stake the Comets to an early 9-1 lead in the first set over the Bulldogs and Clayton never looked back.
Perdue, a senior, remembers last season’s losing record, both in conference and overall, but also recalls some off-season workouts that, in hindsight, set the stage for a magical season that will continue next week in the 4A state playoffs.
“Last spring, we were doing our spring workouts running together and we just all thought, ‘next year is going to be good’,” said Perdue. “We all had been playing together since basically we were in the sixth grade. It’s just worked out; team chemistry is awesome. We all just get along.”
Ten seniors had been playing together, but an infusion of young talent and the manner in which the underclassmen have meshed with the seniors has been key to the Comets’ success thus far.
“The seniors took them under their wings and showed them the ropes,” Perdue said. “Though they didn’t really need it because they caught on really quick. We all meshed. It was basically just meant to be.”
Freshman Maya Gray led the Comets with nine kills and seven blocks in the sweep over Southeast Raleigh (1-14, 1-11). Freshman setter Riley Kerigan had 20 assists and sophomore libero Ashley Tutt was all over the court on serve receive and in digging up Bulldogs’ attempted attacks.
Clayton ended GNRC play having dropped just 10 sets in 14 matches.
“When we all got together (before the season), we worked really hard at practice,” senior defensive specialist Cayli Sutton said. “I know we had a lot of Friday conditionings and a lot of medicine balls and we put in the work. We haven’t had any drama, we all work together and we’re all good friends.”
Lee points to the preseason Johnston County tournament as when he first thought the Comets had a chance to make a special run at the conference title after seeing the squad face off against some of the county’s best teams.
“We’ve got 10 seniors,” said Lee. “To bring in two awesome freshmen like Maya and Riley and super sophomore Ashley Tutt, we progressed from there. We knew we had (this season in us) but the biggest thing was playing together as a unit.
“It’s been a great run.”
West Johnston beat Garner on Tuesday to wrap up its season with a 12-2 and 18-3 overall, which should give the Wildcats a high seeding in the state playoffs. Rolesville (9-5) was third in the conference, followed by Harnett Central (7-7) and Garner (5-9).
Two Rivers 3A: Triton wrapped up the championship outright this week. Cleveland finished second, a game behind the Hawks, and Corinth Holders was third.
Eastern Plains 2A: North Johnston and Washington ended up tied for third in the conference with matching 5-5 conference and 9-12 overall records.
Carolina 1A: Princeton stayed unbeaten in the conference with a sweep of Neuse Charter this week. The Bulldogs have a match against second place Lakewood left in their regular season. Neuse Charter is likely to finish sixth in the conference standings.