Garner Cleveland: Sports

Clayton earns first volleyball conference title since 1986

The time frame between championships may may have been lengthy, but one thing was certain after Clayton’s four-set victory Southeast Raleigh Thursday night: The Comets are regular season co-champions of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.

The championship banner had been more than two decades in coming for the Comets, whose last volleyball league crown was in 1986, as they completed an 18-2 regular season campaign, 13-1 in the GNRC. That conference mark left them sharing the regular season title with perennial conference power Garner. But as far as the Comets and coach Marlon Lee are concerned, a share is just as good as an outright title.

“We’ve been looking at it (a conference championship) since the new gym has been built,” said Lee. “Early on in the season, this was one of our goals: to win a conference championship. We’re going to share it with Garner, but hey, we feel being 13-1 – just like they (Trojans) are – that it’s good to be a champion!”

Gaining the share of the title was not as easy as many in attendance expected. The Bulldogs gave Clayton all it had in the 25-16, 19-15, 25-15, 25-23 outcome.

But the Comets found strength in seven seniors – Jordan Daniels, Kaylee Morgan, Rachel Maness, Jenna Harris, Ali Orringer, Ashley Murphy and Caitlin Davis – off a junior varsity team that went 19-0 two years ago.

Morgan had three kills and five digs in the match, while Harris contributed 14 digs and Davis four blocks.

Megan Homestead had nine kills and five aces; Orringer had six kills and four; and Murphy 11 kills, five digs, and four blocks. Kennedy Paine delivered eight digs, four blocks and 26 assists.

“It’s been a great run,” Lee said. “And concluding with a very exciting game tonight. Southeast Raleigh is very athletic and showed they will go after every ball, just like we do. But our girls persevered and kept fighting.”

Lee said that perseverance and desire to succeed was what enabled the Comets to pull out a hard-fought win.

“It’s been that drive, “ Lee said. “It’s been the drive from being down in other matches just like tonight. They know how to win, and they know how I am on the sideline. They fight and fight, and they are going to fight to the end.”

Lee challenges the girls in practice and during matches to be stronger and come out stronger on each succeeding point.

And when that happens, Lee said, the scoreboard takes care of itself.

“They are proven winners,” Lee said.

“We try to go hard, no matter who is on the other side of the net. We are going to try to get the next point and play every point hard. That’s what we try to do; it’s what we have to do.”

The drive is punctuated by the versatility throughout the entire squad.

Murphy plays front row, back row and is one of the team’s best servers, while Orringer demonstrates a solid ability to switch from outside to middle hitter with ease.

But not just the seniors, everyone from the freshmen to sophomore transfer Homestead fills holes from the inside of the alignment to the outside, and has been a valuable asset for the team.

“We set a lot of goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season.” Lee said. “And we’re not through accomplishing them.

“One of our goals was to beat everyone on the schedule – Garner included. We split with them and maybe we will see them come (this week); then it’s (to) survive in the state tournament.”

But for the moment, there is only one thing the Comets are going to do.

“We are just going to enjoy this regular season championship,” Lee said. “And as I told the girls, the class of 2013 will get a stamp on the board in the gym. And no one can take that away.”