It had the makings of a classic volleyball match.
Heading into Thursday’s match with Two Rivers 3A and Johnston County-rival South Johnston, Cleveland’s only loss of the season was to 14-time defending conference champion Triton, while South’s only defeat was to defending state 1A champion Princeton.
But on this day, South Johnston was just better.
The Trojans recovered from a late seven-point deficit in the first set and never looked back, rolling to a 26-24, 25-13, 25-20 win on the Rams’ court.
The result extended the Trojans’ winning streak to seven games and improved their record to 11-1, 2-0 in conference play. The Rams fell to 9-2 and 0-2.
“This was huge,” said South coach Matthew Adams. “I was so proud of our effort. Cleveland came out firing, and they were playing about as well as they can at the beginning. The momentum was all their way. We didn’t have an answer for them early. But we got a spark from Taylor Lee and Reagan Byrd serving in the first set. We took them out of their rhythm after that. But we beat a really good team today.”
The teams have split their season series each of the last two seasons.
With Cleveland ahead 22-15 in the first set, South Johnston’s Taylor Lee served eight straight points to turn the momentum of the match.
They said it
“South Johnston is a great team and came in with a lot of energy,” said Cleveland coach Shelley Johnson. “Once they came back in the first set, they had the momentum. We didn’t do a good job of staying focused. We played really well when we lost to Triton on Tuesday, although we didn’t today. But (middle hitter) Alexis Ivey may have played the best volleyball of her career this week.”
Three who mattered
Emma Blackman, South Johnston: The senior middle hitter finished with 12 kills and four blocks.
“Three of their girls are on my club team. So we know each other really well,” Blackman said. “We had a little trouble at the start, and it took us a while to reach our potential. But once we came back to win that first set we knew we could win.”
Taylor Lee, South Johnston: The junior setter served eight straight points to turn the tide in the first set.
“I was really worried that I might not get the serve in,” Lee said. “But I started getting them in, and we kept building momentum. The team started cheering and it got me going.”
Alexis Ivey, Cleveland: The senior middle hitter had nine kills and four blocks.
“I need to get everyone to build with me,” Ivey said. “We need to grow together. I think we’ll get there. Today was just a tough day.”
By the numbers
3: Blocks from South’s Makaylah Tart.
4: Blocks each from South’s Emma Blackman and Cleveland’s Alexis Ivey and kills by Tart.
5: Kills by Cleveland’s Taylor Thomas.
6: Kills from South’s Selena Flores.
9: Kills by Ivey.
12: Kills from Blackman.
21: Assists by Cleveland’s Jenna Myer.
South visits the 14-time defending conference champion Triton on Tuesday before hosting conference and county rival Corinth Holders on Thursday.
Cleveland visits Greater Neuse River powerhouse Knightdale Monday, conference- and county-rival Smithfield-Selma Tuesday, and Western Harnett on Thursday.
The rematch is on Oct. 6 in Four Oaks.