Oct. 13, 2010
Coming off last season’s historic run to the Elite Eight, the 2010 Seminoles faced several questions as four of their returning starters moved on to the professional ranks or pursued their future endeavors. However, one of the greatest certainties was the returning production of junior Rachael Morgan, who ended her sophomore campaign as an Honorable Mention American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American.
Having such an accolade tagged to your name always creates greater pressure for the following year, and Morgan was not oblivious to her expectations. With her and senior Stephanie Neville returning as the only two traditional starters, the Tauranga, New Zealand native created her own expectations that were also brought on by her coach before the season began.
“I always feel pressure because it’s for myself, and I want to perform for myself because I know what I can do,” Morgan said. “I want to be a part of leading the team, especially now that I’m an upperclassman. C.P. (Coach Chris Poole) told me a bunch of times, `You need to make sure you’re coming back next year in a leadership role,’ so having that in my ear and wanting to do that as well made me want to be a leader and achieve everything I did last year.”
Morgan came into the year with the same capabilities as what she achieved before, working diligently in the offseason to continue her goal of becoming one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But it was during that time when Poole addressed his preference to switch the versatile performer to right-side hitter, as opposed to her normal position as outside hitter. Although Morgan didn’t think much of it, she certainly felt a difference in preseason practice when her position duties completely changed.
“Changing positions came as a complete shock to me,” Morgan admitted. “All year through the spring I hadn’t really been thinking about it, but as soon as we hit preseason I kind of realized where he was putting me, and when I looked at the players and realized it was going to be me, I was a little shocked because I had done so well last year. It’s a challenge but it’s exciting and I wanted to see what I could do with it. So far, I think it has been a better fit for me than outside. Coach was right in the long run, but it was a huge shock at first. I definitely needed a lot of reassuring from him, which he gave me.”
Morgan elaborates on her position change, including what in fact changes for her in the way she performs on the court.
“Outside is a safety position. If it’s a bad pass, it’s outside every time, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Morgan said in an educational manner. “Last year, that happened a lot with wild swings on outside with passes. If it’s a good pass, you feel a little more pressure because you have to put it down. I’m not a safety player anymore, which is really different.”
Part of what keeps the sport management major hungry for even more success is the achievement she and her teammates already attained one season ago. Although she now plays with several new faces who have already built tremendous team chemistry, Morgan takes a very intuitive approach in dissecting what it felt like to go from just a generic ballclub to a nationally-ranked squad that caught everyone’s eye.
“It’s indescribable what happened last year, especially coming from freshman year when we didn’t do well at all. For us, we did well, but for what we could’ve done, it wasn’t even close,” Morgan admitted. “We would go into games being the underdogs last season, which really helps. We were just achieving all these amazing goals; we were making goals for ourselves and actually hitting them. You start believing you can get there. Last year was ridiculous because you actually start thinking, `I deserve to be here,’ which didn’t happen freshman year. So when you actually start thinking of yourself as a Top 25 team, it’s a whole new experience. Freshman year wasn’t anything when you know how it feels like to be that good.”
The current senior class consisting of Neville, Taylor Wilson, Lauren Young and Jenna Romanelli are some of the older faces that Morgan got to experience last year’s thrill with. Since she arrived at FSU from her home in New Zealand, it has been the aforementioned four girls who have taken her under their wing and have given her a secondary family to lean on.
“My best friends on the team are the seniors,” Morgan said. “We spend all of our time on the court together, all of our time off the court together. I live with them. I really rely on them a lot because I am so far away from home. When they leave next year, it’s going to be like losing family members. The seniors on the team are my go-to girls.”
Morgan, who returns to Tauranga around Christmas time every year, will soon be reunited with her original family. She believes that much of her drive to excel in all facets of life was given to her by her older brother, Matt, who showed enough audacity to help raise Rachael and her older sister, Emma, while they were living with their mother, Felicity. Matt also managed to conquer the enormous task of finishing law school and is now a tax lawyer in New Zealand.
“He stepped up and really helped raise me and my sister,” Morgan said of Matt. “It was always by himself, he did everything by himself. He was always my big motivator, and I feel like to achieve what I’m doing here, motivation is the key, and I think I get my motivation from him.”
Should Morgan continue to look to her family to ignite her fire on the court, then it wouldn’t be to anyone’s surprise that she comes away with more individual accolades following her junior season.