The Comets reversed a trend from their 1-3 nonconference start to the volleyball season to claim a hard-fought victory in in their conference opener Tuesday evening.
Two crucial games decided by a total of five points propelled Clayton to a 3-1 victory over East Wake.
After the Comets won the first set 25-14, they had to rally for a 26-24 victory in the second game. East Wake won the third set 25-16, but Clayton closed out the match with a 25-22 victory in the fourth set.
“Two previous matches that we have had when we have gotten in a close situation, the girls have let it get away from them,” said Clayton assistant coach Rich Haberkorn, who took over for head coach Marlon Lee when he left to attend a Smithfield town council meeting. “They didn’t let that (second set) get away from them. I do think that was a big key.”
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In the fourth set, the Comets (2-3, 1-0 Greater Neuse River 4A) again pulled out a squeaker over the Warriors (2-3, 0-1).
“It seemed like the girls just settled down in the fourth game and settled into their rotation, started talking and moving well,” Haberkorn said. “Everything fell into place when they did that.”
Lee is in the second year of a four-year term on the Smithfield town council and has had to leave other matches early, Haberkorn said.
The Comets trailed 19-15 in the second set but went on an 8-1 run to take a 23-20 lead. With the set tied 24-24, Clayton got a kill from junior Emma Sheldon to take a 25-24 lead. Sheldon then produced a service ace to win the set. The 2-0 lead in the match gave Clayton the cushion it would need when East Wake made its push in the third set.
Three who mattered
Angel Rizor, East Wake: The senior hitter was a dominant force at the net, recording 18 kills and three blocks for points. “Nobody else can hit like us in the conference,” said East Wake coach Keauna Vinson. “But when we get away from our game like we did tonight, we lose.”
Brittany Ochsner, Clayton: The sophomore was at the middle of the balanced Comets attack, netting six kills and two blocks.
The Comets’ middle players: “With Angel (Rizor) in the middle on the other side, you have to have somebody in the middle contesting or she is just going to kill you,” Haberkorn said “I thought the middles did a great job today.”
Putting up numbers
25: Combined kills for Rizor (18) and McKenzie Moore (7). Moore also had two blocks and three service aces.
10: Straight points for Clayton in the first set. With Bailey Perdue serving, the Comets pulled away from a 4-4 tie and grabbed a 14-4 lead to take command of the first set and set the tone for the victory.
1: Winning shot for senior Olivia Owens, whose perfectly-placed shot found a hole in the middle of the East Wake defense for the final point of the match. “We were talking about hitting spots on the court today and trying to hit it where they weren’t. There is no better time to do it than on that last point.”