East Hampton’s volleyball senior captains, from left, Jordan Murphy, Reagan Burt, and Jenna Murphy helped lead the Bellringers to their first conference title since 2018.
East Hampton girls’ volleyball won the Shoreline Conference (SLC) Championship, defeating Hale Ray last Saturday at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
It was the program’s first conference title since 2018.
In order to reach the title game, the Bellringers needed to hold off Coginchaug in four sets (25-18, 25-27, 25-13, 25-19) at East Hampton High School in the SLC semifinals on Nov. 3.
Twin sisters Jordan and Jenna Murphy combined for 29 kills and junior setter Chelsea Woods had a season-high 41 assists in the semifinal victory.
“We brought a lot of energy, we were all psyched to play,” said Jordan Murphy, who finished with a team-high 16 kills, “We just had to come out here and work hard as a team.”
In the first set, East Hampton used a 10-0 run highlighted by a pair of aces from Mackenzie Player and consecutive kills by Jordan Murphy. Player polished off the first set with a kill after getting a fantastic feed from libero Olivia DeMartino.
After falling behind in the second set, East Hampton rallied to take a 25-24 lead before the visiting Blue Devils reeled off the final three points to steal the set.
Prior to dropping the set, East Hampton had won the previous 21 sets.
Grabowski said she didn’t use any special motivational tactics between the second and third sets––instead she let her team figure it out on the fly.
“They just weren't playing like themselves and they weren't playing their game. They needed to get back to what they know,” added Grabowski. “This is a mentally strong team, so when they are down they are not out. They saw what was happening and they decided to work together a little more.”
Jenna Murphy, who finished with a team-high nine blocks, said that the players couldn’t wait to get back on the court following the disappointment of the second set.
“[Coach] told us to play smart and we had to play with energy,” she added. “We had to want to win.”
East Hampton responded by jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the third set and never looked back.
Junior Amber Murphy, the younger sister of Jordan and Jenna, closed the third set by tapping the ball over the net for the final point.
Between the three Murphy sisters, Grabowski has plenty of height and power near the net. The team combined for 13 blocks in the win.
“They all have strength and they are a presence. They are tough to get around,” said Grabowksi. “I wouldn’t want to go up against them.”
It was more of the same in the fourth set as Jenna Murphy had consecutive kills to give the Bellringers a 10-9 lead and Delaney Russell had five straight service points as home team pulled away during the decisive set.
Player, who finished the match with nine kills and three aces, ended the set and match with a thunderous spike.
“Mackenzie has been outstanding for us; she came to play tonight,” said Grabowski. “She is a great athlete and a tough competitor.”
Captaining the team with the Murphy twins is Reagan Burt, who Grabowksi called “a great leader.”
“She brings the team together,” added Grabowski. “I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Burt recalled the disappointment of last year when the team fell short, losing to Hale Ray in the semifinals of 2021 SLC tourney.
“Last year we had the same chance, but we didn’t have the outcome we wanted. So it was good to have the chance to redeem ourselves,” said Burt.
As luck would have it, the Bellringers got the ultimate revenge by beating the Moodus-based Noises of Hale Ray in this year’s title match (25-12, 19-25, 25-17, 25-17).
The title match was a mirror image of the semifinal match with East Hampton winning the first set before dropping the second set and winning the final two.
Five aces from sophomore Sonja Venetainer and 34 more assists from Woods highlighted the championship triumph, which not only captured the conference crown but it was also the team’s 14th straight victory, dating back to Sept. 28.
Grabowksi said it’s the team’s “mental toughness” that allowed the team to string together 14 wins in a row and take 42 of the last 45 sets.
“They have been playing hard consistently and for longer periods of time,” added Grabowski. “That has been really helpful for us.”
Burt added that the team’s chemistry on and off the court has been the difference maker.
“We are a very close team,” added Burt. “Our bond is great and I think we can take it very far.”
Along with conquering the conference as a team, the Bellringers also had plenty of individual conference recognition.
The Murphy twins and Woods were named to the All-Shoreline Conference first-team and Amber Murphy was named Honorable Mention.
Grabowski was awarded with the SLC Conference Coach of the Year
Between the regular season and the conference tourney, the Bellringers won 18 of 20 games. It’s the team’s most wins since 2018 when they last won the conference tournament and advanced to the semifinals in the Class S state tournament.
This year the Bellringers are the No. 4 ranked team in the state tourney. For a complete list of tournament results and schedules, visit ciacsports.com
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin