There isn’t much doubt that the volleyball teams from Knightdale and Clayton are pretty evenly matched this season.
But both times they have played, the Knights came out just a bit better in the end.
The top two teams in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference went to a fifth set for the second time this season on Tuesday, with the Knights rallying for an intense 20-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 15-7 victory. Knightdale also won the teams’ meeting at Clayton back on Aug. 28.
Tuesday’s result improved the Knights to 9-6, 8-1 in GNRC play while Clayton fell to 8-4 and 6-3. With five-time defending champion Garner not a factor, only the Knights, Comets and Southeast Raleigh were over .500 through their first eight conference contests.
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“This was a big match,” second-year Knightdale coach Anna Gay said. “We were so excited to beat Clayton the first time since they were near the top last year, so this was a really big success for us.
“My players hate conditioning, but they did a lot of sticking in there and hanging in there. It’s hard to play five sets, absolutely.”
Clayton came out with momentum, taking the first-set lead at 16-15 and later leading by as many as six points.
Back came the hosts in the second set, with Kia Holden serving for the final five straight points.
But the Comets took the lead at 12-11 in the third set and won it going away.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “Last night we played (and lost) a tough five-set match with Cleveland. And tonight we just came out a little sluggish.
“To play volleyball, you’ve got to be tough and in shape. They got five straight points in the final set and we just couldn’t bounce back. We did some god things, but Knightdale got the ‘W.’ ”
Knightdale eked out the win in the fourth set (in which neither team was ever ahead by more than four points) and broke open the final set behind six straight service points from Nia Singletary.
“We just stayed in it and kept playing hard,” Singletary said. “I think we kept our confidence up, and we did a great job keeping our serves in.”
Delaney Vandergrift, one of three Knightdale senior captains and headed to North Carolina A&T next season, said the Knights were talking about a possible conference title from the early days of practice this time.
“Our fans get really crazy and passionate, and they helped us out,” Vandergrift said. “We have taken the opportunity. We had a long conversation at the beginning of the season that we wanted to be conference champs. We have that mindset, and we’re proving it on the court.”
Kennedy Paine is the only senior on the Comets’ roster, and will play at Peace next season.
“We need to get our passes together and talk more,” Paine said. “Knightdale just keeps fighting no matter what the score. We get along pretty well and everybody likes each other, so we’ll keep hanging in there.”