West Johnston wasn’t off to a great start this volleyball season, but on Thursday night, the Wildcats got a victory they had been waiting for for a long time.
The Wildcats took a quick lead and then shrugged off a weak third set, beating the five-time defending Greater Neuse River 4A champion Garner Trojans 25-18, 25-9, 12-25, 25-19.
The win was the first of the season for Susan Bryant’s Wildcats (1-3, 1-1 GNRC), while Garner is 1-6 and 1-1.
“It’s been a long time since we beat Garner,” said Bryant, a longtime teacher at West who was the previous head coach before Jerry Hogan’s tenure, which ended after last season. “I think we’re coming together. It’s been a transition with new coaches, and they’re getting it together and figuring it out. They were rebuilding a little bit last year, but we’re getting it together and showed it tonight.”
Garner had gotten its first win of the season on Tuesday, topping conference rival East Wake in five sets.
“We played great in the third set,” veteran Garner coach Jason Boyette said. “We had some good games and not good games against East Wake too. Hopefully, we can get things turned in the right direction.”
Thursday’s first set was close, tied at 17-17 before the Wildcats went on an 8-1 run with Kaylea Eubanks and then Tatianna Thompson serving.
And the second was all West, as the Wildcats burst out to a 14-3 lead courtesy of five straight service points from Kelsey Ellis.
Garner dominated the third set throughout, with West substitutes getting some playing time. In the fourth, Ellis got the serve with the Wildcats up 17-15 and got six straight points for a critical advantage.
“It feels amazing to beat them,” West’s junior libero Nicole Lonesky said. “That’s been a goal of ours for a long time. Our rotations worked really well, and I think our core six was in a good rhythm. We just had to talk and play volleyball and have fun.”
West senior Charley Stephenson said she had been waiting for the win her whole career.
“This year we’re doing a lot better than last year,” she said. “We’re learning from one another and growing as a team and not just as individuals. Now I know I won’t graduate without ever having beaten Garner. But we won’t let it get to us. We need to use this as a stepping stone and keep getting better.”
Garner captain Stephanie Sierra said she’s confident the Trojans can use the rare conference loss as motivation later in the season.
“We just need to work on communicating a little better,” Sierra said. “But I was proud of everyone’s hustle and heart. I have confidence in my team. We can turn this around. I don’t know how good West is. We’ll just try to improve and beat them next time.”