KNIGHTDALE — Clayton won its fourth straight volleyball match to start the season, sweeping past Knightdale Thursday to set up an early-season showdown this week against Garner.
“We’re off to a pretty good start,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said of his experienced team. “We have big expectations this year. We are trying to contend for a conference championship. The seniors that I have, two years ago on JV they went 19-0. They played behind eight seniors last year and were mixed in some.
“They know how to win.”
Clayton improved to 2-0 in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference. Knightdale dropped to 1-4 and 1-1.
Clayton had to battle against Knightdale, winning 25-16 and 25-23 in the first two sets before a more dominant 25-12 victory in the third set.
“I told our girls if we come out (against Garner) and have too many mistakes like we did tonight, we are going to get beat 3-0,” Lee said. “We got down every set tonight but we found a way to come back and win. The girls fought hard and did some good things to win.”
The Comets pulled away from a tie at 10 in the first set against the Knights, getting a couple of service aces from Ali Orringer and kills from Ashley Murphy and Megan Homestead in a 9-2 run that put them up 19-12.
In the second game, the deficit was larger. The Comets were down 6-1 and 14-8 before Kaylee Morgan turned things around with a service run. After she opened her service with a point on a long return by Knightdale, Morgan had three straight aces with her diving, knuckleball serve. She added one more ace in an 8-0 run and the Comets also got kills from Murphy and Orringer.
The score was knotted at 23 when Kennedy Paine served for the Comets. Her first serve hit the top of the net and fell over for a point. She then had a more conventional ace to close out the set.
Clayton jumped in front 3-0 in the third set and never trailed.
Morgan again had a dominant service run, stringing together four straight aces to give the Comets a 16-7 lead.
“She is like the ace that comes in to pitch,” Lee said. “She is going to serve hard and she is going to serve fast. It is great to have somebody to be able to serve like that and come in and pick up four or five straight points. That is how you can get some momentum.”
Clayton got strong net play from several players.
Orringer mixed in some well-placed tips with smashes at the net to lead the Comets with eight kills. Murphy had six kills and Megan Homestead added four. Five other Comets had kills.
“That’s what we do,” Lee said. “You can’t just depend on one player at the net.”
Murphy, Orringer and Jenna Harris are in the group of seniors who form the Comets’ core. Harris, the Clayton libero, served well and also had a couple of scoring shots from the back line.
“One of our big pluses on this team is we can hit and we can get it down,” Murphy said. “We just wanted to step it up and get ready for Garner.”
Knightdale battled throughout the match, with strong play from senior Persia Brown at the net (six kills, three blocks) and sophomore Nia Singletary (four kills).
“We have a lot of new players on the team,” said first-year Knightdale coach Anna Gay. “This is brand new for us. What we are going for is battling and making the other team work for every single point.
“I was very pleased with the passing my girls showed and really making Clayton work for every point.”
Gay is looking for growth from her squad, which has six seniors on its roster.
“We are working out some kinks,” Gay said. “Our goal is to do well in the conference. But growth is the main goal.”