By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Lady Knights volleyball team trailed, 11-7, and Southington coach Rich Heitz called a timeout. Both teams came back out on the court, and Ridgefield served the ball into the net. That brought Morgan Raymond to the line.
“Here’s Morgan looking so calm because she always looked very calm,” said Heitz. “But if you talked to her after the match, she would tell you that she was so scared because she was afraid to miss. No one would have known that until they talked to Morgan afterwards.”
Surrounded by talented servers on the team, Raymond was sixth in the rotation. The pressure began to mount, but she was able to serve out the next seven points, propelling the Knights into the semifinals of the Class LL tournament with a five-set win over Ridgefield.
“It’s all about the momentum,” said Heitz. “One of the things we talk about in practice is that we don’t ever end a run with a missed serve. She knew that as long as she did her job, she was keeping the momentum…and she did her job well.”
Raymond joined the girls volleyball program as soon as she stepped into Southington High School. Standing well below six feet, some people may have overlooked her as a back-row defensive player.
“When you don’t have the height, you’re going to have to excel in other areas,” said Heitz. “But Morgan is very athletic, and she has good jumping ability.”
Raymond excelled in the back row as a freshman and sophomore, but she also wanted to hit. So, she worked on her game over the next two years and did what she needed to maximize her athleticism, working her way up to one of the varsity team’s primary outside hitters by her junior season.
“Her work ethic is incredible,” said Heitz. “She’s very competitive and always works hard to better herself. It wasn’t a shocking progression that she would be here for all four years because she kept working to improve her skill set and athleticism.”
As a junior, Raymond was second on the team in digs and serves received and third in kills. She flourished as a co-captain her senior year, leading the team in kills (241), digs (299), and serves received (521).
Raymond could be a team captain or a primetime player on defense. But what really separated her from the rest of the girls on the team was that fact that she was always willing to take on responsible roles.
“We had made some changes during the middle of the season to force other teams to serve the ball more towards her because she was our best passer,” said Heitz. “She’s one of the best servicing passers and defensive players that I’ve had here.”
The all-state first teamer’s versatility was best on display when she played in the 2016 Connecticut High School Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game. Raymond played as an outside hitter for most of her high school volleyball career, but her coach that night asked her if she would mind playing the right side.
“She’s playing with these kids that are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-5,” said Heitz. “Here’s little Morgan, who’s 5-foot-7. She’s playing with these trees in a position she never played before, but she did a fine job at it.”
Even when her high school volleyball career came to an end, Raymond wasn’t ready to let go of the fall season. Raymond missed Southington’s first powderpuff football game against New Britain to play in the senior all-star volleyball game, but she returned the next night to become Southington’s secret weapon.
It was just what the Knights needed to sweep the series for just the third time in the program’s history, helping Southington earn a 34-14 victory at Cheshire.
Before she signed up to play in the powder puff football series, Raymond had never played flag football before. But you would have never known that by watching her play.
Raymond caught two crucial touchdown passes against Cheshire to keep Southington’s undefeated hopes alive. However, it was her 10-yard gallop to the end zone late in the third quarter that gave the Knights their first lead of the contest, 20-14, which they never surrendered.
Raymond wasn’t finished at the final whistle. She headed into the spring with something left to prove.
When Raymond first joined the Lady Knight lacrosse team in her freshman year, Jill Pomposi had just taken over the program as the new head coach. Pomposi was looking to change the culture of the program with better off-season training and preparation during the season, and Raymond bought into it from the very start.
“She was always on board, very coachable, and accepting of what we were doing,” said Pomposi. “The rest of the seniors bought into it, but she led and helped establish the new norm that the coaching staff wanted.”
Raymond was one of only a few freshmen playing for the varsity girls lacrosse team, earning solid playing time as an attacker. Whether she was on the circle for draw controls or in the circle taking draws, she stepped more into the role of a center midfielder in her sophomore and junior years.
“She has the strength, control, and the aggressive play to be in that position,” said Pomposi. “It was really important that she played in that spot because she could control the draws and get them to go where she wanted.”
She ended her sophomore season with over 30 goals and was the only Southington player to score over 50 goals as a junior co-captain. The next closest scorer was 16 goals.
“She goes hard at everything she does,” said Pomposi. “But when she shoots, she puts every single inch into her body and every single ounce into that shot. To really fine-tune and bring that up a notch by the time that she graduated is very impressive.”
The Knights failed to qualify for the Class L tournament since her freshman year, and that didn’t sit well with Raymond. She entered her senior season with one last item on her checklist. Raymond made it her top priority to return to postseason play.
Even during volleyball season, she made time to work with her teammates on her stick handling, lift in the weight room, and hit the payment to run a couple of miles each day.
“She was one of the ones that told me after last season and during the offseason that she wasn’t going to have another season like we did last year,” said Pomposi. “She made a commitment to herself and was sure that she was going to put in the time all year round.”
Voted by her teammates as a co-captain again, Raymond finished her senior season with 67 draws won, 60 ground balls, 29 goals, and 11 assists in 12 games, leading the Knights back to the state tournament with a 9-7 regular season record.
She scored in every game she played in, but one.
Raymond sustained an injury midway through the season that cost her four games and probably many more goals. But goals aren’t everything, and she expressed that through the importance of her teammates.
“She was very loud and encouraging on the field,” said Pomposi. “The younger and newer players really looked to her for advice and leadership. She really took that to another level.”
Raymond’s most prominent performance of the season came in an 11-10 victory over Simsbury at home. She didn’t lead the team in scoring, but Southington couldn’t have defeated Simsbury for the first time in Pomposi’s tenure without her two goals.
“If she didn’t play in that game, I don’t think we would have won,” said Pomposi. “I don’t know the last time we beat them in girls lacrosse, period. After we won, she ran over to me and gave me the biggest hug saying, ‘We did it, we did it.’”
Off the playing field, Raymond finished her high school academic career in the top 100 of her class. She will be attending the University of Delaware in Newark to study exercise science.
Throughout her high school athletic career, Raymond has been known to help out in Southington’s sports community by refereeing at town lacrosse games or helping out at youth lacrosse practices once a week. Don’t be surprised if you see her return to the high school as an alumni assistant.
For her outstanding athletic achievements, versatility, and leadership, Morgan Raymond is The Observer’s 2017 Female Athlete of the Year.