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The Morgan volleyball squad has filled its cup to the brim with accomplishments over the years, and this season alone has seen the Huskies win their 22nd straight Shoreline Conference title, name a Shoreline Player of the Year in their senior captain, and send storied Coach Joe Grippo to the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame. Morgan’s cup flowed over on Nov. 15 when it capped an undefeated 26-0 campaign with the Class S title after the top-seeded Huskies beat 3rd-seeded Lyman Memorial 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-14) at Berlin High School in front of a deafening crowd.
“I’ve been wanting it since my freshman year—we got [to the final] my freshman year and ever since that loss I’ve wanted it more and more, so finishing it out, especially my senior year, is the best way to go out and this is just amazing,” said senior captain Lily Dawson, whose squad beat 4th-seeded Coventry 3-0 in the semifinal on Nov. 13—the first time in years the Huskies have beaten that team in states. “It was such a perfect season and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
The Huskies started things off strong in the first set, jumping out to a quick 5-1 lead after Amy Dahlberg’s four service points and help on defense from Emily Popp (13 digs), Sami Ashton (32 digs, 2 assists), and Jen Dawson, who had a monster night with 25 kills and 13 digs.
“This has been our goal since the start of the season—we’ve had a really good team, we’ve come together so well, we always play well together, and no matter what situation we’re in, we always know how to get through it,” said Jen Dawson, who was named the Connecticut Coaches’ Association’s Most Valuable Player at the conclusion of the game. “Our defense is always the main factor; we always play such good defense. We never let the ball touch the floor as much as we can and our defense just starts the engine. We knew Coventry was the one to beat and finally we beat them, and that was the greatest feeling ever.”
Ashton racked up three points on serves, with Jen Dawson adding to her kills on the night in a hurry and adding three more and giving Morgan a 7-2 lead. Lyman Memorial brought the score to 12-6 after a few volleys that went its way and began to showcase its knack for hitting the ball into the corners of the court and earning points from it. Lyman brought the score to within three with more corner shots, but the Huskies buckled down and saw libero Ashlyn Chidsey go on a four-point service run with the help of Kait Anderson (13 kills), Jen Dawson, and Popp to make it 22-15. Dahlberg closed out the first-set victory with three service points as Morgan won the opener 25-18.
“I just think tonight we were too good—we didn’t miss any serves, we were on our game plan from the start to the end, we served a few too many balls to their libero because I respect her, but other than that, I’m so proud of these guys, you can’t even imagine,” said Grippo. “I haven’t even had to yell all year at practice because my setter takes care of it for me and I’m just kind of more mellow since I’ve been retired. I just liked the way we played tonight. We have some kids who sometimes don’t always get after it enough as much as I want them to, but tonight, everyone was just after the ball and it was just incredible.”
It was business as usual again for the Huskies as they sprung out to an early 10-4 lead in the second set, aided by Jen Dawson’s kills and Anderson’s height at the net and timely tap-overs, along with Ashton’s two service points. Lily Dawson (40 assists) went on a five-point service run to put her team up 15-5 as Ciera Harris dominated at the net, putting up two stuff blocks in the process. Popp earned three service points to help Morgan advance 19-7 before Lyman found a boost in high-powered server Elizabeth Fee, whom the Huskies had a little trouble handling for a brief time. Chidsey, Dahlberg, and Ashton closed out the set with points to give Morgan the second-set 25-12 victory.
“The only run I was disappointed in was when [Fee] ran up a few points on us, but other than that, we weren’t giving stuff up, we were steady as heck, and it was just fun to watch for me,” said Grippo. “I have a lot of respect for their coach and [Lyman] will be back again—this could be a rivalry you haven’t seen in awhile because they’ve got some really good, young talent, as do we.”
Lyman took the lead for the first and only time in the game to start off the third set, but Morgan quickly tied it up 1-1. Jen Dawson had a couple of early kills and Ashton notched two service points for the Huskies’ 8-5 lead and they extended that lead to 15-9 in a hurry with the aid of Ashton and Anderson’s power at the net.
“As the year wore on, Kait has really proved herself. To be honest, Kait’s probably the difference between us winning and not winning because she’s had to fill in for an All-State hitter,” said Grippo. “And she did it, and incredibly well.”
After Fee came up to serve for Lyman and lobbed the ball into the net, it seemed the match belonged to the Huskies and they rode the momentum on Jen Dawson’s tap-overs and perfectly-placed balls to a 21-14 score before Ashton closed it out with four service points to give Morgan the 25-14 victory.
“We just knew we had to win that third set to get the state championship and I think that was in our minds all year to just constantly battle, so I think we took it point by point and just finished it out,” said Lily Dawson. “We wanted to come out strong and show them that we were here to win it and we weren’t going to choke right away and we wanted to make sure they knew that.”
Grippo admitted that the year 2005 has been burned into his brain as being the last time the Huskies have won a state championship, making this night that much sweeter.
“It feels like a really long time since we’ve won. And though I’m getting inducted into the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame, this is way more important to me, but it’s a nice little touch to be going in at the end of a championship year,” said Grippo. “I don’t know how you pick one kid out of this team tonight. But Lily is special—she was the kid I really wanted to win it for because she’s our senior. We were here when she was a freshman and we got blown out by Coventry, so for her to get the redemption is really something special. She’s been one of the best captains I’ve had in all the years I’ve been doing this.”