Over the last 19 seasons, the road to the Shoreline title in girls’ volleyball has been littered with teams who dared to think of themselves as conference champions. No matter how good these teams thought they were, had proven they were, one team was always better.
This season, East Hampton had proven itself worthy just as the others before them, and deservedly so. The Bellringers swept through the conference with one convincing victory after another. The only bumps along the way?
So it was only fitting the two met in the Shoreline tournament final Saturday night at Haddam-Killingworth. Clearly, they were the two best teams in the conference, and after their memorable five-set match on Oct. 10, maybe it would be East Hampton who could finally dethrone the champs.
Morgan would have none of it. The Huskies won their 20th consecutive Shoreline Conference tournament title with a 25-15, 25-23, 25-11 victory.
“Twenty in a row. I can’t even fathom that,” said coach Joe Grippo, who has won 22 Shoreline titles at Morgan.
The Huskies (20-0) served first and benefited immediately on a bad call on a ball ruled in for the set’s first point and went on to build a 6-0 lead before the Bellringers served. The call seemed to have had an effect on East Hampton (17-3), but to make much of it would be a disservice to Morgan, which dominated the first and third sets and answered when challenged in the second.
The match was a far cry from the five-set victory by Morgan last month.
“We had a better game plan,” Grippo said. “We kept the ball away from [Ashley] Chasse a lot. She’s just an incredible passer. We were bound and determined on our serving to try and avoid her at all cost and I thought we did a really good job of that. I thought our execution was outstanding.”
With a chance to even the match, East Hampton found its game in the second set, which was closely contested throughout. With Morgan leading 16-15 and Kat Wilkinson serving, the Huskies increased their advantage to 20-15. The Bellringers rallied to within one, 24-23 with Chasse serving, but Morgan hung on.
“We fought so hard to get back into game two,” East Hampton coach John Post said. “When they stole that game - they end up making one or two more plays than we did in that second game - that took the wind out of our sails. Aside from game two, I think we were just out of rhythm tonight.”
Winning the first two sets, Morgan did what championship teams do, seized control quickly in the third with a 4-0 lead, built a 19-9 edge and sealed the deal.
“They’ve won something like 20 Shoreline championships and in a game like tonight, it showed why,” Post said. “They’re poised. They’re aggressive with everything. We struggled to keep up with that intensity. We’re still learning how to win.”
Rather than dwell on the negative aspect of the loss, the Bellringers hope to use this match as a learning tool heading into the state tournament, which they said they will be ready for. No doubt they will. They've been too good all season.
“I think we can be ready,” Bellringers senior Marissa Morassini said. “Now that this has happened, we realize we really need to work as a team and as a family. We can’t go in there being nervous. We have to have fun and be confident in everything.”
Regrouping will be the first order of business for East Hampton, which will be back at practice on Monday and scrimmage Mercy while it waits to see who they play next in the Class S state tournament.
Said Post: “It’s a learning experience. In terms of: What do you need to do to get better? What do you need to get to that level? … You need that poise. For them to see that tonight, it’s good for them mentally. It’s going to take a little while to sink in to how close we actually were to this one.”
Morgan, too, will now get ready for the state tournament. The Huskies also will compete in Class S, so it is possible they could see the Bellringers a fourth time this season. Pairings will be announced on Wednesday.
For now, though, the Huskies celebrate another title. According to Grippo, the common denominators between this team and the others since 1992 are defense and intensity.
“Defense first and I also think the intensity in practice,” he said. “My assistant coach and I bring the intensity every day, but we really didn’t have to do anything this year because they walk in the gym and Lauren’s [Fitzgerald] ready to go and she kind of gets everyone else going. Her and Steph [Strucaly], just an incredible job in terms of that. Because of that, we just keep making it happen. I don’t know why it happens. I just hope I don’t screw it up."