BENSON — Clayton’s volleyball team maintained its hold on second place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, completing a 3-0 week with a sweep Thursday of conference rival West Johnston.
But second place is not the focus for the Comets (9-1, 5-1 Greater Neuse). It will have to do for now, but they want to go one better.
“We want to win a conference championship,” Clayton senior Ali Orringer said. “This is our year to do it. We want to come out and beat Garner.”
Beating Garner is something that no school in the conference has been able to do for four-plus seasons. The Trojans sit atop the league with a 6-0 record and have won 60 straight conference matches and four straight conference titles.
Clayton’s only loss this season was a five-setter to the Trojans on Sept. 3. The defeat stung the Comets’ strong core of eight seniors, seven of whom have been playing volleyball together since seventh grade.
“The Garner game was rough on us,” Orringer said. “After the game, we wanted to come back strong. Now is our time to win, and we are ready to do it.”
Orringer had six kills to lead the Comets, which got multiple kills from six players against West.
Fellow senior Ashley Murphy had five kills and hit the floor several times to make digs in the 25-11, 25-13, 25-15 victory.
“That loss against Garner made us want to play better and get to Garner again,” Murphy said. “Every game we are trying to get better. That loss lit a fire under us. We have to play every match, every ball and take it step by step.
“That is the way to get better.”
Megan Homestead had four kills for the Comets and Kennedy Paine had three.
The Comets led wire-to-wire in the first two sets. In the second set, West Johnston (2-11, 1-5) was making it tough on Clayton. The Comets led just 15-12 after West went on a 6-1 run, but scored six straight points to build the lead back to 22-12.
Murphy, Homestead and Jenna Harris had kills during the 6-0 Comets stretch.
West Johnston led early in the third set, but Orringer had kills on two straight points to put the Comets up 6-5. After West tied it at 6, Clayton slowly pulled away – going on a 13-5 run to take a 19-11 lead.
“Since that Garner game, they have refocused themselves,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “We can’t look to Garner. We’ve got to take each day in practice to get better, each game to get better.”
The Comets needed five sets to beat third-place East Wake earlier in the week, a reminder of that very point.
“The East Wake game the other night kind of woke us up a little bit,” Lee said. “(It’s about) learning hard to play every night no matter who is on the other side of the net.
“I think we definitely are jelling. Everybody is playing their role pretty good. We are just going to take each day to get better. We are gaining confidence as we go.”
West Johnston, which finished second in the conference to Garner last season and 22-7 overall, has had a run of very competitive teams. After losing six starters from last year’s squad, the Wildcats are in growth mode at the moment.
“I hate to say rebuilding season,” West Johnston coach Jerry Hogan said. “It’s not fair to our (five) seniors. They don’t want to rebuild, they want to win this year.
“The girls are feeling their way into new roles. Some girls are starting to step into leadership roles who have been followers in the past. It’s a growing process this year.”
Hogan says he is seeing signs of improvement in the Wildcats.
“We saw some signs (against Clayton),” Hogan said. “In that second set, they had enough fight in ’em to compete in the conference. But then there is that one little play and we lose our steam.
“That’s just match experience. At some point, all the tumblers are going to fall in line and we are going to win some matches in the second half of the season.”