Two young volleyball teams still learning to play together met, but the school with more tradition in the sport and overall experience with year-round players came out on top.
Cleveland took a 3-1 decision from Smithfield-Selma in a Two Rivers 3A Conference match Tuesday night at the Rams’ gym.
Cleveland (8-4, 3-0 Two Rivers 3A), which graduated four senior starters and five overall, is suddenly alone atop the conference standings following the 25-14, 25-22, 15-25, 25-11 over the Spartans (4-11, 0-3).
The Rams inched ahead of Western Harnett (7-4, 2-1) after the Trojans were swept 3-0 Tuesday by Corinth Holders (8-5, 2-1). Cleveland has upcoming back-to-back matches against the two teams tied for second place, traveling to Western Harnett (Thursday) and at home against Corinth Holders (Sept. 27).
Cleveland junior Taylor Thomas said the Rams first had to learn to play together and now our gaining confidence in each other.
“The seniors we’re really good last year so some people felt we weren’t as good as them,” Taylor said. “We’ve had to overcome that and just be the best we can be. We’re still working on gaining confidence.”
Thomas led the Rams with 15 kills and junior Taylor Hein added 10. Sophomore setter Jenna Myer contributed 31 assists and four aces. Cleveland coach Shelley Johnston also is encouraged with the play of freshmen Eve Fulton and Shaelyn Turbyfill for the remainder of the season and future seasons.
“We have an extremely young team that is learning to hustle and how to play together,” Johnston said. “Beating Triton and South Johnston was huge for us. If we can play with consistency and effort we can do some things in this conference.”
Johnston took advantage of the Rams winning the first two games to empty her bench to provide playing time. The Spartans forced a fourth game, but the Rams starters returned to close out the victory.
Smithfield-Selma coach Deanna Morris’ inexperienced roster includes only one player that competes year-round in a club volleyball program, but she’s happy with her team’s effort and progress.
The Spartans bounced back from dropping a first quick game 25-11 to push Cleveland in the second game before falling 25-22. Then the Spartans took advantage of the Rams’ substitution to win the third game 25-15 and carried their momentum over to a fast start in the fourth game against Cleveland’s starters.
Smithfield-Selma led 3-0 on the serving Amber Scoggins and trailed only 10-8 before the Rams pulled away.
“The girls are working hard and starting to believe in what they can do,” Morris said. “We’re trying to gain consistency and develop good practice and training habits. They’re good kids on and off the court and they’re making a commitment.”
Seniors Mariah Goodwin and Mollie Lane have been leading the Spartans.
THEY SAID IT
“We’ve gotten way better since the beginning of the season. We’ve gotten better at communicating with each other and meshing as a team.” – Cleveland’s Taylor Thomas.