CLAYTON — It was a run that left feelings of astonishment, exuberance and accomplishment, not only for outside observers, but also for those who pulled off the feat.
Clayton’s girls’ tennis team won its sixth consecutive conference championship this fall and completed a perfect run against conference opponents with its quartet of seniors: Logan Boykin, Kohana Hackett, Spencer Rich and Elezcia Singletary.
Fifty-six foes up, 56 foes down. Four straight years, four straight 14-0 marks against league opponents. Added with the eight-win streak that preceded the class of 2014’s arrival in the Comets’ tennis program, Clayton is on a 64-0 run against league opponents.
“When we finished it, I was exuberant,” said Boykin, “and proud of my team at the same time.”
Boykin is one of two four-year senior starters for the Comets, along with her doubles’ mate, Singletary, who together began their run in the dual team playoffs this week.
Singletary and Boykin have a 2012 conference doubles championship under their belt and have won more than 50 matches as a doubles duo, as well as more than 50 singles matches each.
They are just a part of the Comets’ dominance in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference over the past four seasons. Clayton has posted plenty of 9-0 wins, but they’ve been at their best in the most competitive matches.
The streak has included three 5-4 victories. Dual tennis matches feature six singles and three doubles matches, with teams earning one point for each victory by one of its members. Two of those came against Garner in the past two seasons, one over former league rival Smithfield-Selma.
The Trojans gave Clayton its biggest scare this season, forcing the Comets’ top doubles team of Carmelle Joyner and Katherine Riley to rally from a 7-5 deficit for a 9-7 win that made the overall win possible Sept. 18.
“They always bring out the best in us,” Singletary said of Garner. “But very close matches are where we always seem to find a way to excel.”
The Comets kept their overall perfect record this season intact when they beat Cleveland, 5-4, on Sept. 19, a day after the 5-4 win over Garner.
Driving Clayton’s approach is 17-year veteran coach Ken Stivason, who knows his players and the majority of their opponents better than most.
“He’s got this very military style, but it comes off in a kind manner,” Boykin said. “He can make us laugh and laugh(s) at us.”
Comet players have learned that Stivason’s prognosis of matches is rarely off. Said veteran junior Maya Guha: “He’s brutally honest with you, but in a good way.”
Countered Boykin: “It’s always info you need, but not always what you might want to hear.”
The growth of Boykin and Singletary are excellent examples of the growth Clayton players often experience.
“They’ve both put in long summer hours and became good players,” Stivason said. “Elezcia is a power player from the baseline, and Logan moves the ball around and is good with the volleys.”
Getting the right mix of complementary abilities is something Stivason strives for in putting together his doubles pairings. That’s also why Riley plays doubles with Joyner.
“I’ve always matched up our doubles teams trying to create a team that’s deeper than other teams,” Stivason said. “I want players who complement each other and counter each other’s weaknesses and strengths.”
Comet players seem to understand that, which helps them survive the in-team battles for seeding slots in singles and doubles play. Players must defeat the higher-seeded player or duo in order to move up the seeding ladder.
“That makes you just always want to be better,” Guha said. “The first two years, Logan was under Elezcia, then Elezcia moved ahead of Logan. You want to win, but its fine. Once it’s decided, you don’t care about who’s ranked where. We’re all trying to win for Clayton.”
Rich has continually climbed up the Comets’ singles ladder throughout her three-year career. She was 16th as a sophomore, bounced back and forth between ninth and 10th as a junior, and jumped to the sixth and final dual singles spot this August. She went 9-0 as a No. 6 seed and was 3-3 as the fifth seed when an injury to Guha forced her up in the lineup.
“She’s one of the most improved players I’ve had,” Stivason said. “Her fitness level has improved every year, and it’s really helped her foot speed and her consistency.”
Guha has missed half of this season battling a shoulder injury, but she was 8-1 in singles. She finished a match after injuring herself in mid-September while serving underhanded, still winning at love (6-0, 6-0).
An injection of freshman talent has helped bolster the Comets’ lineup this season as well. Carmelle Joyner, a left-hander, has been Clayton’s No. 1 singles player all season. Joyner won the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference singles tournament championship last week and carries a 21-0 record into this week’s state dual and individual regionals.
Fellow freshmen Hannah Kellum and Stephanie Wilder both also have winning records in spot duty as a No. 6 seed in singles. In addition, Wilder won a key tiebreaker to help Clayton edge Cleveland on Sept. 19.
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