East Hampton volleyball has won seven of eight games to start the season. From left; Delaney Russell, Olivia DeMartino, and Mackenzie Player are pictured at a game inside Cromwell High School last Wednesday. The Bellringers beat the host Panthers in straight sets.
Coming off the program’s first state championship in 2022, some of the names on East Hampton’s volleyball roster have change, yet the mindset remains the same,
“We have a different lineup with the same goals,” said senior captain Delaney Russell.
So far, the Bellringers have seized on the momentum from last fall, winning seven of eight games to start the 2023 season, including a three-set sweep (25-15, 25-12, 25-18) of Cromwell on Sept. 20.
It was the Bellringers third straight win and head coach Molly Grabowski said the team is forming into shape.
“I’ve liked seeing everyone get better,” Grabowski said of her new-look squad. “We started out really raw and we were plugging in new people and filling some big shoes, so it’s nice to see that those holes become smaller and smaller.”
In the road victory at Cromwell High School, senior captain Amber Murphy led the charge upfront with six kills and three blocks.
Grabowski credited Murphy for her consistent work at the net, saying, “Amber is becoming more and more aggressive.”
Joining Russell and Murphy in the captain’s chair is returning setter Chelsea Woods, who dished out a season-high 24 assists in the win at Cromwell.
Grabowski said, despite several new faces on the court, Woods has again done a nice job at running the offense, distributing the ball to a new cast of characters.
The trio of captains –– along with fellow seniors Mackenzie Players, Madison Reola and Emily Tinson –– have become the veteran voices for a team that is fresh off both a Shoreline Conference title and the Class M state champions last fall.
“We’ve had to step up and lead the team a little more,” Murphy said of the expanded role. “We lost some players from last year, but I think we have a strong team this year.”
A year ago, Murphy’s older twin sisters Jordan and Jenna captained the team with Reagan Burt.
Jordan Murphy earned all-state and was named the Class S tournament’s Most Valuable Player as the Bellringers captured the program’s first state title, defeating Hale Ray in the title match last November.
With the three influential seniors departing, it was up to the returning players from a year ago to carry on the winning ways.
“The seniors are finding their leadership footing,” stated Grabowski. “Last year they were able to stand behind Jordan, Jenna and Reagan, but now they are finding their own way to lead the team.”
It helps that the team returned plenty of experience a season ago, with four of six starters back in their roles.
For the second year in the row, Woods is the team’s setter, again leading the team in assists and distributing in a different way.
“We were a power hitting team and we’re still trying to do that, but we had to make changes in our lineup and how we are approaching the games,” said Woods, who was named first-team all-conference as a junior last fall. “We are going to be a smaller team and are getting recognized for how we play rather than just putting the ball down every time.”
Junior Olivia DeMartino is back in her libero position, leading the team defensively, averaging 15 digs per match.
DeMartino closed the first set against Cromwell with an ace and then the Bellringers started the second set by scoring four of the first five points behind a pair of aces from Woods.
After falling behind early in the second set, Grabowski said she liked how her team responded against their Shoreline Conference (SLC) rivals.
“Cromwell has a way of putting the ball back at us at different times when we’re not ready,” added Grabowski. “I think we responded well and I think [they players] did a good job as the game went on.”
The Bellringers used a seven-point scoring run midway through the third set to take control before Amber Murphy polished off the match with consecutive points, powering home a kill and a block.
Sophomore Stephanie Martin also shined in the victory, finishing with a career-high 10 kills off the bench.
Following the victory over Cromwell, East Hampton made it four wins in a row with a four set (25-18, 25-21, 17-25, 25-9) win over Haddam-Killingworth on Sept. 22 as Woods matched her season-high with 24 assists.
On Tuesday, East Hampton defeated Cogincaugh Regional in three sets (25-11, 25-18, 25-13) behind nine aces from DeMartino.
Since a Sept 13 loss to Hale Ray, the Bellringers have won five straight games, taking 15 of 16 sets during that streak.
Russell said the three captains are leaning on the leadership skills from those before them.
“Luckily we’ve had awesome seniors during our time here that have been great role models for us,” added Russell. “It’s still early in the season and we are still navigated it, but we are staying positive and I feel like the team is looking to us for guidance.”
The Bellringers are in the middle of a four-game home stand and look to keep the momentum going when they welcome North Branford to East Hampton High School for a match today (Friday, Sept. 29) at 5:30 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin