'Everybody knew I was a Gopher': Fox 9 goes 1-on-1 with Taylor Morgan

On the court, University of Minnesota fifth-year senior Taylor Morgan has had a roller-coaster of a career. She dreamed of playing for the Gophers and coach Hugh McCutcheon as far back as 2012, when he coached the U.S. Olympic team and then had to sit out the 2015 season with a torn meniscus. She’s a fierce competitor who never lets her teammates get down or let doubt creep in.

Off the court, the Blaine native calls herself an introverted dork who likes coloring, listening to classical music and indulging in McDonald’s chicken nuggets. Fox 9’s Jeff Wald sat down with Morgan for a 1-on-1 interview before the Gophers face Florida on Friday in the NCAA Sweet 16 in Texas.

Take us through the emotions of having the season on the line against Creighton in the fourth set. What did it take the clear that hurdle, survive and advance?

I can’t really speak to how they were feeling, but there was a point in the fourth set that I was not blocking at all. It was out, out, out, it was just horrible and I just kind of was like I just have to do my job. I’m not doing my job. I’m telling the girls ‘Hey let’s just do our job and we’ll be fine’ and it just kind of seemed a little hypocritical because I’m a middle blocker, I’m not even blocking. So there was a point where it was 24-22 or something like that and I got a block and I just came down and I was in tears on the court, like come on guys, I believe in you guys. Don’t lose the hope, and then CC went on that run and it just was like we’re going to leave all the emotions in the fourth set and just get back to business. That’s what we did.

What does it say about the character of this team that you didn’t panic with the season on the line?

As a team, you could see it in their eyes. They were trying to find something to hold onto, like we were all starting to feel it, like dang, we could really be done and a lot of teams would just be like, eh. It’s easier to just give up, we don’t like the easy road. We like to get down and dirty, and do our job. I couldn’t ask to be on a better team. These are the things that players, athletes, coaches, they all love a good gritty team.

Take us back to your first game at the Pav, after recovering from your 2015 injury. What was that moment like?

It was kind of weird, my freshman year in 2015, I got hurt. Redshirted that year, so 2016 I was able to step foot, my first time ever. I was a blocking sub, and I actually got a block I think, so that was pretty cool. I was like this is dope, and then I got hurt again so it’s just like ugh, that sucks. But I just like kept going and then in 2018 was like the first time I was actually a starter and actually playing and actually healthy. So it was just like, it still felt the exact same. I felt like a freshman volleyball player, just super excited to be here and to represent Minnesota and have the name on my back. I just had that newbie fire, everything was just super new and super exciting. I was just excited to be there, I was excited to run around the court and jump up and hit. I love it. If I could go back in time and be that freshman or that junior, whatever I was, just to have that, I’d like to be a fly on the wall and see how I acted. That would be dope.

You’re a Blaine native. How important was it for you to play for the Gophers and wear the Minnesota jersey?

Honestly, it was a no-brainer. Everybody knew I was a Gopher, I wear all the time Gopher gear. It was so bad my mom told me in high school, “Yeah, you’re not allowed to wear any sweats until Friday because you look like a bum every day wearing sweat pants and sweat shirts.” But it was always Minnesota, so everybody already knew that I was going to be a Gopher when I grew up. It feels good, like I go back home sometimes and I went to one of my little sister’s volleyball games, and just like it’s so surreal because I feel like I’m so old going back. But it’s like all the coaches, the trainer, they’re all still there. They’re like “I watch you on TV, I saw your interview.” The little girls that play volleyball there, they’re at the games too and it’s just like oh my goodness. This is just like super weird and I’m just super honored and like grateful. I get nervous talking to them because I don’t want to mess up, I don’t want steer them in the wrong direction or anything. It’s just a surreal feeling, I love it so much. I love being a homegrown kid, and playing at the home state is just, it’s dope.

Hugh McCutcheon is one of the biggest names in volleyball coaching circles. What sold you on playing for him?

Honestly I was watching the 2012 Olympics at my grandma’s house and they put the camera on him. I said “I’m going to be his athlete one day, he’s going to be my coach.” Later that year, he’s like ‘Yeah, I’m going to coach at the University of Minnesota.’ I literally almost peed myself because I’m just like oh my goodness, this could actually happen. When I first got here, it was like oh man, I’m in the presence of an Olympic head coach. He’s the coolest thing, I was just super nervous. Then I realized he’s a regular dad, telling dad jokes. He’s just a regular person, which is really cool. Just being under him and being able to say I was his athlete, it’s a dream come true and it’s a blessing. He’s one of the best in the world, really. He knows what he’s talking about. Sometimes athletes don’t really believe it until you have to do it, and then we’re just like “Dang, you’re actually right.” I know he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s a great coach.

Every athlete has their superstitions. Do you have a game day routine or ritual?

We don’t really have like a game day ritual, but I’ll drink like two cups of coffee at Starbuck’s and then like some candy, typically like some Sour Patch Kids or something. Give me some energy, and then I bring my lip gloss on the court. I’ll just have it sitting there and I’ll put it on because I lick my lips, and I feel like if I don’t have it, it’s going to be like I’m not in the zone so I have to have my lip gloss with me.

What’s your favorite cheat food to eat when you’re not in season?

Chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. I love chicken nuggets, man don’t even get me started.

Who is Taylor Morgan away from the volleyball court? What other hobbies do you have?

I’m actually like an introverted dork. I like coloring, like I’ll get some candles. I’m low-key, like a big introvert. I know you can’t really tell, but when I go home, I like to turn the heat on, light a candle and I’ll just color. Listen to some classical music, relax a little bit and I’ll just color, and then I’ll go to sleep. It’s real chill, also been listening to some podcasts. Not really what you would expect.

You’re a Youth Studies major. What do you plan to do after college?

After college I hope to go play overseas for a little bit and then come back to the states, and then start my coaching career. I’d like to become a head coach at one point in my life. That’s my plan.

What will you remember most from your playing career?

One thing I’ll remember forever would probably be my freshman year, I was 13 years old playing on varsity. I was a bubble player, and I remember we were in the section finals playing against Centennial, everybody hates Centennial. This girl, she was the Kathryn Plummer of high school, she was the real deal. I remember my coach said “I don’t care where the ball goes, I know exactly where it’s going to go, it’s going to go to her because it’s game point for us.” She’s like this is what I want you to do, I want you to step to the go, and I want you to block. I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t know any of it. So I just remember taking a step, and I blocked her and we got the game-winning point. We went to state that year, and that was like the one, that was the turning point where I was like I do know what I’m doing. I’m not some little kid anymore. I know I was 13, but I know how to play the game. I was like ‘I don’t know if I should be here,’ I’m like 13 years old going through mid-life crisis, and just like listening to my coach. I took that step and I was like maybe my coaches do know what they’re talking about because they’re coaches. That would probably be like the most memorable time in my life. I’m only 22 so I don’t have too much going on.