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Morgan wins state volleyball title

MONTGOMERY — Morgan Academy volleyball coach Jennifer Moore walked around the Faulkner University multipurpose building in Montgomery on Saturday afternoon carrying a large piece of new hardware for the school’s trophy case.

Moore hugged the cumbersome piece of maple and metal, appearing to struggle with Morgan Academy’s historical marker.

Was the trophy as the AISA Class AA state volleyball champions heavy?

“It’s lighter than air,” said Moore, whose Senators fought and scrapped the Clarke Prep Gators through four games to claim the school’s first-ever state volleyball championship.

The state championship was the first for Morgan Academy in team sports since the 2008 girls tennis crown. In all, Morgan has 45 state championships since 1985.

The Senators defeated Clarke Prep 12-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 to claim the state crown after knocking off defending champion Kingwood 25-17, 25-12, 20-25, 25-22 in the semifinal match.

No, this wasn’t schoolyard volleyball either. Moore said her team had gone through a daylong battle to win the trophy.

“You had to be serious out there,” said Moore, whose Senators finished 29-3 on the year. “We were in it to win it.”

Morgan scratched out a narrow 25-23 victory in the fourth game against Clarke Prep. The Gators wanted to win the game to force the 15-point fifth game, when momentum can shift quickly and doesn’t have to stay around as long as a 25-point game.

The Senators wanted to wrap it up without the extra game.

Both teams literally matched each other point for point in the match-winning game. The game was tied 10 times and the lead changed three times. Morgan fell behind 12-8 and 14-10 before the momentum went in the Senators’ favor.

With Summer Pugh serving, Morgan strung together seven straight points for a 17-14 lead. Clarke Prep, however, traded shots with the Senators until the game was tied 19-19, 20-20, 21-21, 22-22 and 23-23. Moore was afraid history was repeating itself.

“We cannot finish the third game” against Kingwood, she said after the semifinal match earlier Saturday. Morgan had been tied 18-18, 19-19 and 20-20, then Kingwood went out five straight points to win the game.

“I told them during the timeout (in the fourth game against Clarke Prep), ‘You’ve got to finish,’” Moore said. “When it got to 23-23, I went to the end of the court and said, ‘Finish it here.’”

Junior April Clark, one of only two 6-footers — including Class A Sumter Academy’s 6-1 Shelby Fast, an eighth-grader — finished the match with her 10th kill against Clarke Prep. She was chosen the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Also named to the tournament team from Morgan were junior Dee Griffin and Anne Woodruff, the team’s only senior.

Clark had eight aces and four solo blocks against Kingwood with her 10 kills against Clarke Prep; Griffin had 17 digs — 10 against Kingwood and seven against Clarke Prep; Woodruff had five kills against Clarke Prep; and Summer Pugh served eight aces and recorded seven kills against Clarke Prep.

In the victory over Kingwood, Morgan Academy had the jitters early when the Lions of Coach John Jones opened with a 6-1 lead.

“There was no communication,” Moore said. “Last year, we went to five games with Kingwood.”

Morgan had won the two earlier regular-season meetings with Kingwood, 3-0 at Kingwood and 3-2 at Morgan. Jones said he expected a strong contest.

“Our girls played hard, really hard,” said Jones, whose Lions finished 25-15 on the season. “Just to make it here was an accomplishment for us.

“I’ve been proud of them all year,” he said. “They have been exceeding expectations. … They played like champions, just the fact that they fought back and had the courage to play so well.”

Morgan played well in spurts in the first game of the early match, stringing nine points together behind Catherine Armstrong’s serves and a 9-3 advantage when Woodruff, Pugh and Mary Peyton Zimmerman served and Clark had two blocks.

In the second game, Clark’s serve befuddled Kingwood when she served 10 straight points with seven aces for a 14-3 lead.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Clark said about her serve. “It just seemed to work all at once.”