GARNER — It wasn’t the way Garner volleyball coach Jason Boyette had hoped his best team would end its season.
But in the second-round playoff match against Raleigh Millbrook, the Trojans ran into a team that had gotten used to playing a match at this level.
And the Wildcats prevailed, ending the Trojans’ run in the state 4A playoffs with a 21-25, 25-21, 26-24, 25-20 decision Tuesday night.
“It was a pretty even match,” said Boyette, whose team was eliminated in the same round last season. “But in the last three sets we didn’t get a good break and they played well. We had a couple of mental lapses. I’d love to take a few points back that we gave them, but every point we scored we had to earn today. A lot of plays that were kills in our conference games weren’t kills against Millbrook.
“Their conference is absolutely deeper than ours. We don’t get to see competition like that all year long. They’ve got some pretty strong hitters.”
Garner, whose senior class has established the Trojans as the dominant team in the Greater Neuse River 4A, finished 23-3. Millbrook, the third-place team from the Cap-8, was 18-8 going into its third-round matchup at Cap 8 runner-up Wakefield.
“We’ve had a hard road all season long about playing tough at every moment,” said Millbrook coach Julee Dickens, whose team lost in the first round last season. “And that was our problem in the first set. We were ahead and let up.
“I think the depth of our conference helped us. Garner is a quality team, and we have several like that in our league. They’re hard hitters and play good defense. But we’ve had tough games all season long, and when we get to the state playoffs we’re well-prepared to go against the best.”
Garner trailed for much of the first set, taking the lead for good during a run of five straight serves from Gabrielle Lee with the Trojans trailing 20-19. And UNC Pembroke-bound senior Ka’asha Jefferies put it away with one of her hard trademark spikes.
But the Wildcats roared back to claim the next three straight to eliminate the home team.
Millbrook took the lead for good in the second set with four straight serves from senior Tara Dotzauer following a 17-17 tie.
In the third, the Wildcats scored the final two points, taking the 25-24 advantage on a Dotzauer kill. And in the fourth, Millbrook never trailed after taking the lead at 13-12.
“I think the key for us was coming together as a team after the first set,” said Dotzauer, who will play for the U.S. Naval Academy next season. “Our passing really picked up. We recovered and really worked together as a unit.”
Senior hitter Kelsey Bryan, who plays three sports for the Trojans, will head to basketball practice.
“Millbrook was really quick,” said Bryan, who will play softball at UNC Wilmington next year. “We don’t see that much of it in our conference.
“They kept the intensity up for four matches and we didn’t.”
Millbrook senior Stephanie Stieber, who will play for Lehigh next year, said she finished the match with plenty of respect for the Trojans.
“It was quite a tough match,” Stieber said. “Garner was tough competition, but we handled it well as a team. We played together and we played to win.”