NEW HAVEN >> Haddam-Killingworth’s players wore yellow t-shirts with “Langer, 40” printed on the back as they warmed up. The shirts were to commemorate longtime Cougars coach Richard Langer’s last season with the program. The players wanted to make the last year of his 40-season career special.
On Saturday in the Shoreline Conference final against Morgan, the Cougars did just that.
Senior Mackenzie Hinds had 19 kills and six aces as H-K downed Morgan 3-1 (21-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-19) at Wilbur Cross to stop a string of 22 consecutive SLC titles for Morgan and postpone Huskies coach Joe Grippo’s pursuit of 600 wins. The coach has 599.
Grippo said the milestone was not important and wanted to keep it quiet to not put added pressure on his players. He said his team, which split the season series with the Cougars 1-1, fought all match, but H-K was the better team.
“The milestone has nothing to do with the way we played tonight,” he said. “We didn’t execute our game plan, (H-K) is a great team, without executing our game plan we had no chance to beat them.”
Meanwhile, Langer said his team, as always, made him proud. He said this is one of the happiest moments of his career.
“This is really a great effort,” the coach said. “This is a great team I had this year. That’s why I came back and that’s why I’m leaving. I’m going to graduate with all eight of my seniors and let someone else rebuild next year.”
Seniors Lauren Brough contributed 18 kills; Olivia Parmelee added 12 kills and Michelle Church had 51 assists to help H-K top Morgan. Langer said coaching this team is easy.
“I don’t do a lot of coaching,” he said. “Most of the time I’m on the sideline I don’t have to do too much yelling, I don’t scream too much, they know what they’re doing. I just have to remind them once and a while to focus on their job. They’re a talented group of kids, they can play without a coach.”
The Cougars played well after bouncing back from losing the first game. H-K took control in the second game after a 15-all tie. The Cougars used a 10-1 run to break the tie and tie things up at 1-game apiece.
“We cut down the missed serves,” Langer said. “First game we had a lot of missed serves, unforced errors and in the second game I think we almost served perfect.”
In Game 3, H-K dominated early and led 23-13. Morgan rallied, closing the gap to 23-18, but the Cougars regained control and won the game 25-19.In Game 4 Morgan held off another late Morgan run, and with the score at 17-15, went on a 8-4 run of their own to close it out.
After the final point, the Cougars poured onto the court and huddled up around Langer. The H-K student section chanted “your time’s over,” at Morgan towards the end of the contest. The Cougars student section joined the players to celebrate, holding cardboard tombstones with R.I.P. on them, marking the end of Morgan’s reign as Shoreline champions. Hinds said stopping the streak was important.
“My friend told me that yesterday at practice (Langer) comes over to her with this look in his eye and said, ‘I really want to beat Morgan,’ ” she said.
Shoreline Conference championship
Haddam-Killingworth 3, Morgan 1
Game scores: 21-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-19