The back of the Morgan volleyball team’s t-shirts this season read “Some wish for it, we work for it.” After the Huskies defeated East Hampton 3-0 at Cromwell High School on Nov. 2 for their 22nd consecutive Shoreline Conference title, that statement couldn’t prove truer.
Despite the 3-0 score, Morgan (19-0) had to fight hard for this victory and won in three close sets with the scores of 25-20, 25-23, 25-16, relying on some of its younger, less experienced players to dig deep and step up on the big stage of the league championship game, but also saw its veterans—namely senior captain Lily Dawson—come through.
“It never gets old, especially since a lot of the times what sticks in your head is the bad parts, so like last year when we didn’t even get to play this [due to Superstorm Sandy cancelling the Shoreline final and Morgan being named co-champs with East Hampton] and when we lost in the state semifinals, I think that was really stuck in us, so the winning just never gets old,” said Dawson, who was named Shoreline Player of the Year earlier that evening. “At first we weren’t playing like ourselves, I don’t know if it was nerves, but actually we’re super young, so I don’t if it’s because some of them didn’t get here because it got cancelled last year, but I think towards the end, definitely in game three, I think we definitely started to play more like ourselves. Getting that award was also really extra special—there’s a lot of good players in the Shoreline Conference and so many players that deserve it, so I’m just so honored.”
In the primary set of the night, Morgan took the lead first thanks to Kait Anderson’s (17 kills) kill after three back-and-forth volleys between the two sides. The Huskies pulled out ahead 9-5 thanks to Jen Dawson’s tap over and two kills and Sami Ashton’s (16 digs, 2 assists, 9 points) stifling defense, but Morgan ran into trouble on unforced errors and allowed the Bellringers to tie the match up 11-11 before a timeout was called to regroup.
Following the short break, East Hampton took its first lead of the night and boasted a resilient defense that picked up each and every ball that Morgan pushed over, leading the Bellringers to take an 18-15 lead. Morgan tied it up again and took the lead on points from Lily Dawson (42 assists, 11 digs, 5 points) and the Huskies eventually won the first set 25-20 on Anderson’s double kills.
“We weren’t as smooth as we’ve been most of the year, but we’ve got to give East Hampton credit. They just really played well against us tonight and we made a couple of errors defensively and let them get on a couple of runs, but it’s a very resilient group,” said Coach Joe Grippo, whose team beat Coginchaug 3-1 in the semifinal on Oct. 31. “I haven’t had more fun coaching—I think I appreciate it more now because I’m not teaching, so people have been saying I’ve been calmer on the sidelines, but it’s a great group. We’ve been in a lot of close games, but it doesn’t seem to faze them. We don’t start serving balls into the net like a lot of teams, or start to hesitate playing the ball, and you know, we stayed aggressive all night tonight.”
The second set saw the Bellringers gain some early momentum, which in turn caused trouble for the Huskies. Jen Dawson (25 kills, 20 digs, 3 aces, 11 points) got Morgan on the board first 2-0, but East Hampton put up a couple of blocks that shut down the Huskies and allowed the set to be tied 4-4. After a few more communication miscues on Morgan’s part, East Hampton took an 8-7 lead, but thanks to strong defense and lots of grittiness from Ciera Harris, Ashton, Lily Dawson, Emily Popp, and Ashlyn Chidsey (18 digs, 7 points), the Huskies regained the lead and remained a point ahead for several more volleys. East Hampton pulled to within one and then tied it up on a Morgan error, but Harris’ block put the Huskies ahead again and Jen Dawson helped seal the set with her points and Morgan won 25-23.
“It feels good to play against East Hampton, especially after last year since we were co-champs, but it’s a good feeling, and I haven’t experienced it just because of what happened last year,” said Ashton, a sophomore. “I originally played soccer, but then I went to the clinic and I just loved it and I saw all the banners and it’s just such a great program to be a part of.”
East Hampton seemed to lose steam in the third set and Morgan was able to pull ahead quickly and early. Thanks to solid defense from Lily Dawson and Ashton, along with Harris’ tough blocking at the net, the Huskies went up 8-2 in a hurry. The Bellringers proved they weren’t going to give up easy on the ninth point when after volleying back and forth six times, they put up a stuff block, but the Huskies’ defense of Lily Dawson and Popp proved why Morgan was a step above and allowed the Huskies to win the point.
With the score at one point 15-4, East Hampton tried to creep back into it by forcing errors on Morgan, but the combination of Anderson, Lily Dawson, and Jen Dawson helped give the Huskies the 25-16 victory for the championship.
“It’s a team that has a lot of answers. I don’t care what people say, as long as we execute play. We’ve used it as motivation when we hear people say we’re not where we were. We haven’t lost a Shoreline match in who knows how long,” said Grippo, whose squad is ranked first in Class S. “This one is as special as the first one. We want to make a lot of noise in the state tournament this year. Tonight was an indication of their mental toughness. We made the plays.”