When she arrived at the Bunn Dome Tuesday afternoon, Meredith Blake instructed her players to look up toward the rafters, where Bunn’s nine conference championship banners hang — including three that Blake was a part of from 2007-09 as a reliable libero.
Blake picked up another league title in 2015, which was her first as the head coach at West Johnston. For Blake, one of the few blemishes on that storybook campaign was the fact that she accepted the position too late to be able to add Bunn to her schedule.
Blake rectified that situation this fall and was thrilled to return to the Bunn Dome to finish off the two-match season series between the clubs.
Even better for Blake was the fact that undefeated West Johnston took both contests, including Tuesday’s 25-14, 25-18 and 25-18 decision.
“I was driving over (to Bunn) and was thinking about all of the great memories I have from playing volleyball here,’’ Blake said. “I have so much respect for (Bunn head coach Henry Jones) and (assistant) Melanie Lovin. The success we had — it was insane. One thing I have tried to do (at West Johnston) is to be able to bring out the heart and desire from these girls like Coach Jones did with us.’’
Blake’s strategy has worked as the Wildcats pulled off an improbable Greater Neuse River Conference crown last fall after several seasons of frustration.
But West Johnston certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around, even though the Wildcats (3-0) have a young varsity group that features only three seniors to go with four ninth-graders.
“We hear a lot of people trash-talking about us, but it fuels our fire, to be hones,’’ said West Johnston veteran hitter Abby Barbour. “This team has a lot of great chemistry. We really like our freshmen and what they have brought.’’
After winning the first set in convincing fashion, West Johnston was tested more by Bunn (2-3) in the second set. Bunn was ahead 7-6 before Barbour rattled off eight consecutive points, two of which came courtesy of aces. The closing set followed a similar theme as West Johnston was ahead 16-15 before pulling away thanks to a 9-3 spurt that featured a pair of kills from Makayla Hackney.
THREE TO KNOW
Abby Barbour, West Johnston: One of the most accomplished veterans on West Johnston’s squad, Barbour had a huge night with a team-high seven kills to go with two aces and three blocks.
Alexis McPhail, Bunn: A senior leader for the Ladycats, McPhail sent down two kills and converted four blocks along with one ace.
Kelsey Ellis, West Johnston: A well-rounded performer who can hit, block and play defense, Ellis was sharp with five kills, one ace and four blocks.
BY THE NUMBERS
31: West Johnston delivered that number of kills during Tuesday’s match — in only three sets. One area that is dramatically improved for the Wildcats this season is their overall frontline depth, thanks to their influx of varsity-ready ninth-graders.
“We definitely have more hitting options now,’’ Blake said. “With all of the young players we have, it feels like a good situation right now. We just hope to continue to get better.’’
9: Bunn’s offense was limited to just nine kills — a low number for a program with a prolific net reputation.
But Jones lost three up-front rotation players to either injury or moving away before the season began, and he has been forced to reload his roster on the fly -- with tempered results to date.
“Right now, the best positive we have is our serve reception,’’ Jones said. “And I really like Erin (Collier) at the setter position. Alexis McPhail can really put the ball down. But our defense is going to have to carry us. We have to keep rallies going.’’
3: A trio of Jones’ former players are currently serving as head coaches on the high school level in at least one sport -- Lovin (Bunn softball), Blake (West Johnston volleyball) and Melanie Davis (Southern Nash volleyball).
“It’s neat to see that,’’ Jones said. “I was talking to Meredith’s husband before the match, and he talked about how excited she was to be playing us. That means a lot to me.’’
Taylor Edwards, Meredith’s sister, is also an assistant at West Johnston, and she played under Jones at Bunn.
THEY SAID IT
“We know the target is bigger for us now (in the GNRC),’’ Blake said. “We’ve heard some talk that last year was a fluke for us because the conference was down. I think our girls have a lot of desire to prove everybody wrong.’’