Both the Clayton and Garner volleyball teams have a much different make-up than they did a year ago, a season in which the two sides split the Greater Neuse River Conference regular season title.
In the first clash of the Highway 70 rivals this season, the Comets, bolstered by a new crop of talented players, came out on top sweeping the Trojans 25-16, 25-14, 25-11.
Senior setter Kennedy Paine put together an excellent match both with her passing and her service game to give Clayton an important leg up early in the conference season.
Paine totaled 14 assists to six different attacking players and helped the Comets pull away in the second and third sets from behind the service line where she led her team to nine-point and 10-point runs, respectively.
“This was a team win,” veteran Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “At any given moment, I can sub someone in and there’s not really any let-off.
“Any given night, any of the young ladies can step up.”
Besides Paine, freshmen Brittany Ochsner and sophomore Brianna Davis took turns heading the Clayton charge, giving Paine enticing options of whom to set.
As they had done in the first two sets, the Comets (3-2 overall, 2-1 GNRC) pulled away at the midpoint of the final game up just 12-9. Kills from Davis, Ochsner and Bailey Perdue helped fuel a 13-2 Clayton run to end the match.
Garner continued to have difficulty transitioning from offense to defense, often not getting the ball over the net. When the Trojans were able to get the ball across, slightly off the mark passing led to many zero attacks.
“When the ball doesn’t even get over the net, we’re not going to win a lot of games,” Garner coach Jason Boyette said. “We had trouble getting the ball over the net on our side.”
Boyette started two freshmen and a sophomore after a late, pre-match injury suffered by starter Alisha Josey led to some lineup shuffling.
Playing with a rotation that hadn’t practiced together as such before, Boyette knows it will take some time for the new grouping to get on the same page.
“Once we figure out who needs to play where, then they’ve just got to start playing together,” Boyette said. “We never practiced what we played today so I didn’t expect them to be in sync.”
When the Trojans (1-7, 1-2) were able to get the ball up to their hitters, captain Stephanie Sierra, sophomore Abigail Porter and freshman Shaylynn Hall all proved to be dangerous.
The Comets, still looking to win two matches in a row on the season for the first time, hope the defeat of a rival with the pedigree of the Trojans can have a carry-over effect.
“It feels good to come over here and get a good win and try to pick up some more of that momentum that we’re trying to carry on,” said Lee. “We’re trying to get better.”