Last season, the Clayton girls soccer team finished in third place in the Greater Neuse River Conference standings behind Garner and West Johnston.
This year, a young Comets team wants to be more in the mix to compete for a conference title.
The Comets traveled to Garner Wednesday and proceeded to control the midfield, limit the Trojans’ chances on goal and came away with a 2-0 victory that improved their conference mark to 3-0, giving Clayton an early leg-up on their rivals from down the road.
Kendall Gillespy gave Clayton the lead in the first half on a long strike and Everett Biggs connected on her fourth goal of the season in the second half to provide the offense for the Comets.
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“They’re a good team and they’re going to give us the same type of play when they get to our place,” Clayton coach William Williams said of the Garner squad. “It’s going to be a dogfight this year; I’m just glad that we’re in the mix.”
For the first 20 minutes of the first half, neither side created a dangerous scoring opportunity as the ball took up residence in the middle of the pitch for much of the opening minutes.
The Comets (4-1, 3-0) drew first blood in the 24th minute when Claudia Woznichak pinned the Trojans deep in their defensive zone after Garner played a ball out to the wings hoping to clear it from danger.
Woznichak instead pumped the ball back towards the penalty box where, after a deflection, Gillespy ran onto the ball and launched a shot to the far corner of the goal from 25 yards out for the 1-0 lead.
“Kendall, when she got that shot, I was right behind it—it was such a beautiful shot,” Williams said. “She works so hard but sometimes when she gets there, she doesn’t give it all that she has but she let it rip tonight.
“That ball, I had no doubt was going in.”
Clayton doubled its lead in the 53rd minute when Nicole Guerrero stole the ball after a Garner goal kick, led Biggs into the penalty box with a diagonal pass and Biggs fired home the shot up high and to the near post.
After conceding the second goal, the Trojans (2-3, 1-1) began to find a rhythm to their offense and came close to getting on the scoreboard.
Lauryl Fright came closest to getting the Trojans to within a goal when she, after benefiting from some nice quick gave-and-go passing, beat Clayton goalkeeper Kaylee Wilson only to have the ball hit the crossbar and go over the goal.
“We came out in the second half playing better, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Garner coach Joe Dennis said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
Guerrero twice came close to extending the Comets’ lead and forced Garner goalie Mandy McLamb to make a great save on hard struck ball that was headed just underneath the crossbar late in the second half.
McLamb made four saves on the night.
McLamb’s counterpart, Wilson, was forced into just making a pair of saves to earn the shutout on a night in which the Trojans’ ability to transition the ball out of their back third and into their attacking third was a little off.
“We had a few people playing out of their usual positions and that really hadn’t practiced there or anything so the movement of the ball—connecting it from our back to our midfield and then up to Michaela (Wycoff) and our forwards—wasn’t there,” said Dennis. “It was just missing the link playing it forward.”