Shante Nelson said her Southeast Raleigh volleyball team played its best match of the season on Thursday.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bulldogs, nor at a worse time for Smithfield-Selma.
The Bulldogs dominated all but one set, topping the Spartans 25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-11 to spoil Smithfield-Selma’s Senior Night and avenge an earlier five-set loss at home.
The result improved the Bulldogs to 5-13, 5-9 in Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play while the Spartans fell to 4-17 and 4-10.
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And more importantly it gave Southeast the No. 5 seed for the GNRC tournament beginning Saturday, while SSS will be No. 6. So if any of the top five seeds wins the tournament, the Bulldogs will be headed to the state playoffs.
“We played as a unit tonight,” said Nelson, who took over her first head-coaching job when Whitney Lamm resigned following the first game of the season. “We didn’t let a few bad plays bring us down and shut us down, and it made a world of difference.
“We’ve improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. It has not been a question of athleticism for this squad. It’s always been whether or not we could get them to play together, and we saw them do that tonight the best they’ve done all season.”
It was the final regular-season GNRC game for SSS, which will be playing in the Two Rivers 3A next season.
“I don’t know what happened to us in the first two sets,” SSS coach Chase Crocker said. “The third was very impressive. I guess we just lost the energy in the last set.
“The crowd was great tonight, and it was a great night. Now we’ve just got to work as hard as we can in the tournament and see what happens.”
The Bulldogs took the lead for good at 10-9 in the first set on Amara Bell’s serve. In the second, they broke serve to lead for good at 5-4 and won going away.
“I’m glad we came together and played as a team,” the Bulldogs’ Brianna Tyson said. “We worked hard and stayed focus, and we’re in the playoffs!”
SSS rallied, broke serve to lead at 10-9 and took the third set. But in the fourth, Jade Phillips served five straight times after it was 1-1 and the Bulldogs never looked back.
“We’ve just got to keep working hard now,” said Southeast’s Tiffany McCarter. “We’re coming into the playoffs as underdogs.
“Our attitudes and communication have really improved this season. We didn’t always get along early in the season, but we’re all like sisters now.”
The Spartans now have to regroup and look for an upset in the first round of the conference tournament.
“It was an emotional game, Senior Night and everything,” SSS senior outside hitter Halle Emanuels said. “We’ve been starting slow. We fought back and won the third, but in the end I don’t know what happened. Maybe we ran out of energy.”