Volleyball in the Greater Neuse River 4A was pretty much turned on its head last season.
Garner had come into the campaign with five straight conference titles, while West Johnston had typically been near the top.
But last year just about everyone got revenge.
Only Rolesville, which has its first senior class this year, finished below the traditional powers as Garner finished seventh and the Wildcats sixth.
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That allowed the top five teams to win at least nine conference games each, all good enough to advance to the state 4A playoffs.
Knightdale took the championship before falling at home to rival East Wake in the first round of the playoffs.
Ross Fields, who previously coached in Indianapolis, has replaced Anna Gay at the Knightdale helm.
“When I was looking to move I noticed that Knightdale had made the state tournament, which means something here,” Fields said. “Everybody makes it in Indiana.
“We have most of the team returning and a great core. I think a new coach with a new style has the advantage the first time through the schedule. We’ll be ultra-ultra aggressive and try to dictate the match. We’re going to score or hit the ball out of bounds. We’re not just going to keep it in play and wait for someone to tell us what’s going to happen.”
Keauna Vinson got the Warriors into the playoffs in her first season as head coach, and is looking for an even better season this time with 6-1 senior Angel Rizor at the net and junior Tamara Knuckles at setter and middle hitter.
“It had been a while since East Wake won a playoff game,” Vinson said. “We’re in a tough conference. This year I need to do a better job making adjustments on defense. But we’ll be very good on the front row.”
Knightdale (13-12, 11-3): Middle blocker Heaven Jarrell and outside hitter Nia Singletary will provide senior leadership. Fields said Jarrell “has never met a swing she doesn’t like.”
Southeast Raleigh (12-11, 10-4): Seniors right-side hitter Kiara Marsh and setter Tyra Burt lead the Bulldog returnees according to new coach Tammy Lackey. Junior libero Faith Lackey, the coach’s daughter, is another big weapon.
Clayton (11-9, 9-5): Marlon Lee’s Comets have almost all their nucleus back. Senior Megan Homestead will be on the varsity squad for her fourth season, while junior libero Bailey Perdue is another key leader.
Harnett Central (15-8, 9-5): Senior setter Lauren Grodi, who will play for Meredith next season, leads Coach Jason Harrell’s returnees. Junior outside hitter Braxton Wright and classmate Kayla East in the middle bolster the nucleus.
East Wake (10-9, 9-5): Senior Haley Glover at libero is another key to the Warriors’ hopes to get back into the playoffs.
West Johnston (9-14, 5-9: Meredith Blake is the Wildcats’ first-year coach, saying she’s optimistic about a strong middle with juniors Abby Barbour and Kelsey Ellis. Senior setters Brooke Applequist and Kaylea Eubanks Ellis should provide stability.
Garner (3-21, 3-11): Veteran coach Jason Boyette said he’s confident the Trojans can fare better than last season’s snakebitten team. Senior libero Alisha Josey and junior right-side hitter Kacie Meekhof are top returnees.
Rolesville (0-21, 0-14): Brian Harris is the new coach and says he likes an up-tempo style. Seniors Tayanna Harvey, Ashley Franklin and Hailey von Krusze should be floor leaders.