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After letting a close first set fall out of its grasp, the Fike High varsity volleyball team ran out of steam in the back half of the match and lost in straight sets to Clayton on Wednesday evening at home.
The 3-A Big East Conference Lady Golden Demons, learning how to play together under a new head coach, fell 25-23, 25-8, 25-10 to the Comets for their second loss of the season. Meanwhile, the visiting Comets of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference bounced back from being swept by Fuquay-Varina the previous night and captured their first win of the year.
In that first set, when her team battled all the way back to give itself a chance, Fike first-year head coach Heather Sulkowksi said she saw a lot to like about how her team played.
“I saw that we were attacking the ball,” Sulkowski said. “We have got to do a better job. When I came in, I said we’ve got to attack the ball. We can’t free ball it over. It’s what we’ve been working on. Sometimes we do it great, sometimes we don’t do it at all.”
The key moving forward is learning how to replicate that kind of performance with consistency to put her team in position to close out entire matches, not just segments of them.
“I think we’re close,” Sulkowski said of finding a way to win those close sets. “I told the girls to go back and look at some of those decisions. I think in that first set, if I remember correctly, we got aced several times in that set. We had four aces and seven hitting errors, so if you take those away we win the set.”
Fike did come close, fighting back from a defict that came from key errors.
The Demons scored the first point of the night and went up 4-1 early in the first set. Before either reached 10 points, the two schools tied five times, then with a 12-10 lead in hand, the tides started to change for the Comets. A 9-0 run halted Fike at 12 and changed the direction of the match. Despite a late 8-3 run by the home team, ultimately, that run is when Clayton took over as the Wilson school lost its confidence.
“We tend to get down on ourselves,” Sulkowski said. “We had a pretty bad (loss) last night by C.B. Aycock. New coach, new ideas, new things. I think that they’re just not confident yet in themselves.”
In this early season, Clayton head coach David Nicholson expressed his team can fall victim to the same trends of letting struggles keep his team down, and allowing high points to make his team let up. Coming out of the first set, he talked with his team about staying even-keeled and it helped push them the rest of the way.
In the second set, Clayton started on a 6-1 run, then soon after scored 11 consecutive points to jump way out in front with a 17-3 lead that put them in position to close it out. In the final set, Fike continued to allow runs that kept the game out of reach, as communications broke down, errors became more rampant and the offense lost its power.
Sulkowski said after the game Fike is working toward more aggressive offense and a defensive unit that strives for blocks, but it isn’t there yet.
“We don’t have a ton of height, so I think they come out with their blocks and their attacks and we kind of get down,” she said. “We’ve got to learn to hang if we’re going to compete.”
In the loss, junior Kendall Harris led the team with 12 total blocks, including three solo blocks. Led by a quartet of seniors, Caroline Searcy added five block assists and Reece Nelson contributed 13 digs, five assists and eight kills. EJ Secrest had 12 assists, with Anna Black notching eight digs.