MINNEAPOLIS — Other than coach Hugh McCutcheon, there may not be a more influential voice in the Gophers volleyball team’s huddle than middle blocker Taylor Morgan.
Morgan, a redshirt senior, has seen the program’s many highs over the past five years: two Big Ten championships, two NCAA tournament Final Four appearances and now the team’s fifth consecutive trip to the Sweet Sixteen. All while dealing with four knee surgeries, the latest in January 2018, which had coaches and medical staff wondering if Morgan should continue playing. But she never wavered from her desire to keep going and has developed into one of the Gophers’ strongest leaders on and off the court.
“Her personal journey having fought so hard to be here, I think it’s great to have people that are that invested and have shown such a great commitment to what we are trying to achieve,” McCutcheon said this week.
There is no doubting Morgan’s commitment to Minnesota. The former Blaine High School standout said playing for the hometown Gophers has been “a dream come true.” Her love and passion for her teammates, coaches and fans shines through in every question she answers, and her leadership can be seen in every match as she pumps up her teammates on the court and from the bench.
“You just try to do your job so other people can do their job, and it all works out in the end,” Morgan said.
Her leadership is a quality she has never lacked, but the production to back it up hasn’t always been there, McCutcheon said.
“She’s come a long way. She hasn’t gotten louder — it’s just who she is — charismatic and energetic and certainly is in there talking to the team about stuff. But, at the beginning there was a bit of space between the words and maybe some of the actions that were backing them up,” McCutcheon said.
Morgan played in just 66 sets over her first two years, totaling 49 kills and 19 blocks.
The past two seasons, as Morgan has stepped into a more prominent role, have been a different story. She has played in 203 sets and tallied 447 kills and 236 blocks, ranking second on the team in blocks and blocks per set.
Her performance Saturday against Creighton in the second round of the NCAA tournament helped fuel the Gophers’ comeback in the five-set victory, totaling nine blocks, including one that fought off the first of two match points Minnesota faced.
It was a match for Morgan that followed a similar arch as her time at Minnesota. The match started slow, and while Morgan continued to be a leader for her teammates, she struggled on the court. Yet, when she was needed the most, she not only had the words but the performance to back it up.
“Here’s a case on Saturday night where in some phases of her game, Taylor was struggling, and you know she was able to find a way to influence the outcome of the game in a positive matter by doing things and saying things and not just talking but acting as well,” McCutcheon said.
Morgan’s teammates have seemed to follow in her footsteps all season, carrying the many qualities that Morgan embodies: resilience, energy and confidence.
Now, with newfound life heading into the Sweet Sixteen match against Florida on Friday in Austin, Texas, the senior knows that last weekend’s match against Creighton and everything that has become before it can only help them moving forward.
“Over the course of the season we’ve been through so many different things, and I feel like the Saturday match really, like, showed how resilient and how much we’ve worked hard over the course of the season,” Morgan said. “If you didn’t see it before … that was a really good indicator to show that we really do work hard and we really do operate on all cylinders.”