It was a story of two volleyball teams that are currently headed in opposite directions.
Cleveland is on its way up in its first season under coach Shelley Johnston, while Smithfield-Selma is struggling.
The Two Rivers 3A and Johnston County rivals squared off for the second time this season on Thursday night, and the result was pretty similar to their first meeting.
The visiting Rams came back to win the first set 25-12, were in control most of the way in a 25-19 victory in the second and then took a huge early lead to win the third 25-10.
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The result improved the Rams to 12-3, 4-2 in conference play, while SSS fell to 3-14 and 0-6.
Cleveland had won the teams’ first meeting 25-16, 25-14, 28-26 back on Sept. 9.
“Our best match was definitely against Triton (a five-set loss on Sept. 11), but after that we had three players get mononucleosis,” Johnston said. “Since then we’ve been improving, and I was encouraged by our practice yesterday. We’re getting back to normal.”
The Spartans dressed just eight players for the match.
“We’ve played the same way the last two days,” SSS coach Chase Crocker said. “Serve-receive was better, but we’ve got to get that first ball to our setter. If we set up, we can be successful. But we’re not going to be successful if we’re just free-balling over the net.”
The Spartans scored the first five points of the match with freshman Maya Anderson serving. But junior Mallory Macon — who is now in the rotation because of illness in the starting lineup — got the Rams momentum by serving nine straight points to make it 11-7. SSS was never again closer than three points back in the set.
“If I don’t think about it too much I can usually get (the serve) in,” Macon said. “I just think about getting it in and over the net, and that’s usually what happens.”
Cleveland never trailed in the third set, with Macon serving five straight points in one stretch and Wallie Driggers running off six straight.
“I thought we were good today,” Cleveland junior Alexis Ivey said. “We met our goals. We wanted to keep SSS under 10 points in a game and have fewer than five missed serves. We hadn’t been working together as well in recent matches as we did today, but we really did a great job talking to each other.”
In the third set, Cleveland led 18-2 on 11 straight service points from Macon before the Spartans rallied to make the final score more respectable.
“We’re getting better,” SSS senior Morgan Eatmon said. “We’re working things out. I was happy to see the way we came back in that last set.”