KNIGHTDALE — Freshman Jena Massing had been practicing with the Knights’ junior varsity squad two days earlier. But on Sept. 26, she wound up playing a pivotal role in the varsity unit’s slim victory over Harnett Central.
Knightdale head coach Anna Gay sent a makeshift team to the court to face the Trojans (3-10, 2-6 Greater Neuse River 4A) with several of her players out injured. Her collection of veteran contributors and willing youngsters helped the Knights (8-7, 6-5) pull out a 3-2 win (23-25, 25-14, 16-25, 26-24, 15-10).
“I cannot be more proud of the girls this game,” Gay said. “We actually played most of our JV squad tonight. We were down three and four girls with injury this week.”
The day before the game, Gay moved Massing to outside hitter at practice, where she was ultimately asked to fill in at game time.
“(Coach Gay) came up to me during the game on Tuesday and was like, ‘I’m pulling you up to varsity,’” Massing said. “I was very happy. I got to play middle, but at practice yesterday she moved me to outside.”
Gay’s patchwork team bounced back from a 2-point loss in the first set to topple the Trojans by 11 in the second frame. Harnett Central’s reply, a 9-point win in set No. 3, gave the Trojans a 2-1 match lead.
Harnett Central fed off the game’s emotion, according to head coach Jason Harrell. He said his team had to cling tight during the five-set roller coaster ride.
“I thought we really had momentum for most of the night,” Harrell said. “They played on an emotional high, and as emotions went we found ourselves in highs and lows. At the end, we just made some simple mistakes that really hurt us.”
The lowest low of Harrell’s night was when his Trojans came within 2 points of victory in the fourth set. Harnett Central battled back from a 3-point deficit to tie the score at 24. Knightdale won the final two points of that set and never looked back.
“We weren’t making the plays like we should have,” Harrell said. “We started playing catch-up, and at that point it was already too late.”
The Knights rode the momentum generated by the fourth-set win through the final, match-clinching game. In a week full of adjustments, Knightdale was able to counter each of the Trojans’ shots with ease. All Gay’s team had to do was take things one point at a time.
“For us, it was all about learning to adjust and readjust and jell,” Gay said. “We just really pushed each point, and that was our memento.”
Gay gave much credit to Massing and sophomores Deiara Frye and Elizabeth Goodheart – the reserves that stepped up in the absence of injured Knights starters. The trio exuded confidence, rather than inexperience, in the trying contest.
Massing said she was excited, not nervous, to compete on the big stage.
“I’m just happy we won,” Massing said. “I knew we’d pull it through.”