Bellringers Volleyball Makes History
East Hampton girls’ volleyball celebrates after winning the program’s first championship on Nov. 19.
East Hampton volleyball won the program’s first state title, defeating Hale Ray at East Haven High School to win the Class S state championship on Nov. 19.
The championship triumph ended a historic season for the Bellringers, who won their final 18 matches of the season, capturing both a conference and state title along the way.
“This was the perfect team to have this run with,” head coach Molly Grabowski said. “Any title win is big because you really have to prove yourself over and over throughout the season. These girls really proved to themselves that they were good enough and that they deserved it.”
With most of her lineup returning from a season ago, Grabowski knew she would have a championship contender this fall.
Yet the team started with two losses in the first six games, including a home loss to Hale Ray on Sept. 14.
“In their minds they didn’t know how strong they were,” Grabowski said of the player’s performance in the early stages of the season. “Ultimately I think they learned and felt more confident, and it was a healthy confidence.”
Grabowski added that the pair September losses, especially the one to Hale Ray, were beneficial once the postseason rolled around. She said that the team admitted to her that they looked past their Shoreline Conference (SLC) rivals in the first meeting.
“It happened early in the season, so I’m glad we learned that early. We talked about it and they felt a little overconfident,” recalled Grabowski. “We were never overconfident again.”
Following a five-set loss to Haddam-Killingworth on Sept. 23, the Bellringers never again experienced the feeling of defeat the rest of the season.
They also got the ultimate revenge, beating Hale Ray in straight sets in a regular season match on Oct. 10 and then eliminating the Moodus-based Noises in four sets for the Shoreline Conference championship on Nov. 4
In the fourth meeting, with all the marbles on the line in the state championship match, Hale Ray jumped out to a two set lead before East Hampton rallied to win the final three sets and bring the trophy back to Belltown.
Grabowski, who just wrapped up her fifth season on the sidelines, said there “aren’t any more secrets” when you’re playing a team for the fourth time in a season and credited Hale Ray for being a worthy opponent.
After dropping the first two sets (19-25, 23-25), the Bellringers responded by silencing the Noises (25-16, 25-14, 15-8) over the final three sets.
“I think [the players] were overall nervous. In those first two sets they dropped, they were not playing like themselves,” recalled Grabowski. “They didn’t want to make any mistakes in this big game, but they never stopped fighting, they never had a bad attitude about it, and they never thought that they couldn’t. They knew they could. We just needed to get it together and they needed the time to get used to the feeling on that stage.”
Senior captain Jordan Murphy was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She led the team with 262 kills this season, including 60 over the four state tourney games. It was her most productive four-game stretch of the season.
Grabowski said that Murphy took her game to another level during the tourney run. “Jordan has always been a strong player and this season she has gradually gotten better and better as each game progressed,” added Grabowski. “In that title game we needed her to step up and she did step up. We needed that leadership, and someone to say ‘give that ball to me’.”
Jordan’s twin sister Jenna Murphy also starred this season. She racked up a team-high 96 blocks, rejecting eight in the
“Jenna is a brick wall; you can't get past her,” said Grabowski. “She is on a mission when she is up there blocking. She was such a huge part of our success.”
The Murphy sisters captained the team with Reagan Burt, who Grabowski called the “voice of the team.”
“[Regan] was always ready to go and led by example,” added Grabowski. “We were very fortunate that we had all three of our seniors.”
During the team’s 18-match winning streak, the Bellringers captured 54 or 63 sets, losing multiple sets only twice during the incredible stretch.
Along with going to five sets with Hale Ray in the title game, they also had to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the semifinals against Griswold to win in five sets.
Grabowski said the comeback against Griswold set the stage for the title game rally.
“We didn’t have too many five set games to reflect on,” recalled Grabowski. “But endurance-wise they were really strong out there. Physically they were ready and mentally they were ready.”
Other than losing her three senior captains, Grabowski will have the rest of the starting lineup return next fall.
Amber Murphy, the younger sister of Jordan and Jenna, and setter Chelsea Woods are both coming off all-conference campaigns and will lead the Bellringers in their quest to repeat next fall.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin