The Clayton volleyball team, despite having three conference losses just past the halfway point of conference play, still has its eyes set on competing for a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference regular season title.
The Comets (9-5 overall, 7-3 conference) took an important step in its hunt Thursday, defeating Garner at home for the first time in over six years, 3-1 (25-15, 25-16, 14-25, 25-14).
“We’re still right there in the middle of things even with three losses,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “We’re just going to take each game and each set and try to do what we can do and see how it all plays out. We’re still trying to be the regular season champs.”
Two sets in, it seemed as though the victory was a foregone conclusion as the Comets cruised in the first set and used a jolting 12-0 run in the second set to erase a six-point deficit to take the two games to none lead.
Garner responded with a furious effort in the third set, however, keyed by sophomore outside hitter Kacie Meekhof and her five aces and two kills.
“Meekhof probably played the best game she’s ever played,” Garner coach Jason Boyette said. “Tons of aces, tons of dive plays, little hustle plays and great serving.”
Meekhof’s service run put seven quick points on the board for the Trojans and this time, unlike the second set in which a 12-6 lead evaporated quickly, the visitors hung on to capture the game.
Clayton entered the match having gone to five sets in each of its previous three contests, having lost two, and the Comets came out in the fourth set at home against Garner intent on not having to go to yet another fifth set.
Senior setter Kennedy Paine constructed the attack both with solid passing to her hitters as well as quick tips and dunks that caught the Trojans off guard as Clayton built a 12-5 lead early on. She was consistently great throughout the whole match.
Garner attempted to rally, with Meekhof earning her sixth and seventh service aces of the night, and freshman Shaylynn Hall recording her seventh kill of the match to get to within 13-11, but the Comets closed out the match on a 14-3 run.
Paine finished the match with 26 assists and 13 kills.
Lee instructed his setter to take what was available and if that was sets and tips to the corners, then so be it.
“I just looked over when I was going over to the ball and if I saw open spots, I just went for it,” Paine said.
Rachel Bailey had nine kills for the match and Brittany Ochsner added eight for Clayton.
In addition to solid performances from Hall and Meekhof, Alisha Josey and Abigail Porter provided some spark for the Trojans (2-16, 2-8).
“Our record doesn’t show it, but we’re continually getting better and better,” said Boyette. “Hopefully something will work out in the next two weeks and we’ll put it together soon.”