One thing seems very clear heading into girls tennis season in the Greater Neuse River 4A.
Barring some catastrophe, Clayton is expected to repeat as conference champion.
Every opposing coach in the conference seems to agree that while there might be tough battles for other spots in the standings, the Comets will be the conference’s best team.
And nobody is exactly going out on a limb.
The Comets have won 78 straight conference matches and five of the top six players from last season are back. Clayton beat host Garner 7-2 in their second meeting last year on the road, but won every other conference dual without losing either a singles or a doubles match.
“We have two incoming freshmen with USTA experience, so we should be a very solid team,” said Ken Stivason, who has coached tennis at Clayton for 18 seasons. “We should compete with West Johnston for the conference title.”
Clayton’s two-time conference player of the year and current junior Carmelle Joyner, who has never lost a conference match, won the GNRC individual title by beating current Comet senior Katherine Riley.
“Our goal is to finish second,” West Johnston coach Amanda Fisher said. “Clayton is going to win the championship. And we really admire them, because they’re all good players and they all show such good sportsmanship, too.”
Clayton (16-1, 14-0): The only loss from last season’s team was senior co-captain Maya Guha. Other top returnees include sophomore Stephanie Rushing, three-year starter and senior Hannah Kellum and senior Stephanie Wilder.
West Johnston (13-6, 12-3): Fisher said the Wildcats’ goal is to finish in the runner-up spot again and go back to the state playoffs. Top returning players are senior Katherine Serrell and junior Sabrina Fink.
Garner (11-6, 11-4): Junior lefty Christine Wilkins played No. 3 last season and sophomore Hannah Byrd was No. 7. With the cupboard almost bare otherwise, second-year coach Morgan Jones gave just about everyone on the softball team a racket. The coach says her team could finish third.
East Wake (8-6, 8-6): Garry Allmon is the Warriors’ new head coach. Allmon said top returnees include juniors Malaika Nzau and Kate Williams and sophomore Eboni Montague.
Harnett Central (5-9, 5-9): Coach Gary Epperson’s Trojans lost five seniors, but have a strong sophomore class. Brianna Montague will provide senior leadership while Reese Buie and Rebecca Sorell were solid last year as freshmen.
Rolesville (4-12, 4-10): Jeanne Pastorius was voted coach of the year last season. Junior Nikoru Uzoho and sophomore Katie Nguyen are the top two returnees.
Knightdale (3-12, 3-11): Fatimah Cruz-Parker, in her second season, says she’s expecting her team to fight hard against deeper competition. Juniors Diamond Oduok and Kimberly Mejorado should be the top returnees.
Southeast Raleigh (0-14, 0-14): Third-year coach Jazmin Highsmith says the thing she likes most about her team is the players’ attitudes. Madison Leake, Kiara Mosley, and Kiarra McKenzie-Perry are expected contributors.