After having to postpone the start of its season for two weeks while quarantining for COVID-19, South Johnston’s varsity volleyball team opened its season on Tuesday with a straight sets win over visiting Greater Neuse 3-A Conference foe Smithfield-Selma for Senior Night. Individual set scores were 25-10, 25-14 and 25-10.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day,” said South Johnston coach Matthew Adams. “We thought we were going to play Triton a few weeks ago (a game canceled on Nov. 17) and we got into the quarantine situation. And it’s ironic, because I told the girls the first day of tryouts, ‘No matter if it’s a tryout day, a game day or whatever it is, don’t take it for granted because you never know when it could be stripped away.’ That’s been our mindset since day one. So, then we lost two weeks of the season and we missed three matches and that carried into Thanksgiving. We were sitting at home watching other teams play and post scores and get experience and we were just having to sit and watch. That was kind of tough.”
“You could tell the girls were hungry to be out on the floor. They love each other. They love spending time together. They love the game. And we’ve got some girls that put in the time to put in the work during the offseason, even though their club seasons got cut short, too.”
A trio of seniors led the Trojans (1-0, 1-0 GNC). Katon Blackmon had nine kills and three aces on nine service points, Mattie Wheeless had 14 assists and two aces on 13 service points and Erica Stanley had 10 digs.
Junior Grayson Johnson also had a strong performance at the service line, with three aces on 13 service points.
McKenzee Moore had five kills, one block and six digs. Jordyn Brown had five kills, two digs and one ace on two service points. Savannah Smith had three kills and one block. Kennedy Byrd had two kills, two assists, seven digs and two aces on 10 service points. Stanley had one kill and held serve for five points. Johnson had one kill and one dig. Tori James had one kill. Hannah Beasley had seven assists and one dig. Mackenzie Coats had one assist and three digs. Blackmon had eight digs. Wheeless had three digs.
Cassidy Jewett had three kills and three blocks to lead the Spartans (0-4, 0-2).
Prior to the match, South Johnston honored three seniors: Katon Blackmon, Mattie Wheeless and Erica Stanley.
“It kind of starts with our three seniors,” Adams said. “They started playing club in sixth grade together and they’ve been playing volleyball together for a long time, so they know each other well and they compliment each other well. They all have different skills that they bring to the team. They’re good leadership for us and they’re steady, consistent players.”
Wheeless set the tone for South at the service line, holding serve for eight straight points, including one ace, to start the game as South took an 8-0 lead and dominated the remainder of the set.
“Sometimes people get back there and they’re just trying to serve to get it in,” Adams said. “But serving can really be a weapon if you have someone that can place the ball well and serve with different styles. Mattie had a pretty good serving run there at the beginning of the match and that helped us jump out to a big lead. First game. We haven’t had a sporting event in this gym in eight, nine months. These girls have been waiting a long time and so you never know how you’re going to come out. Something like that helps everybody settle in and relax a little bit. I think it helped us to have fun and play loose a little bit.”
The second set was close early. With South holding a 5-4 lead, a Blackmon kill, assisted by Byrd, started the Trojans on a 5-0 run. Three unanswered from the Spartans cut the lead back to three, but a Brown kill, assisted by Beasley, started South on a 6-0 run to pull away. The lead never dipped below five after that run.
South pulled away early in the last set, opening the set on a 12-2 run and remained in control the rest of the way.
South Johnston is at conference foe East Wake (1-2, 1-1) Thursday before returning home to face conference foe Clayton (4-0, 2-0) Friday.
“Three conference games in one week when you haven’t played in a long time is a challenge,” Adams said. “But we’re ready. We’re excited. We think we’re one of the best teams in the conference and we hope to have a shot at competing for a conference championship.”