Sport specialization in high school has become such the norm that when anyone breaks from the ranks, it’s news.
Northwest’s Morgan (who sometimes goes as “Mo”) Baker prefers to look at herself as volleyball player who also enjoys track. Even that is a little refreshing.
Baker, a junior, is a couple of weeks away preparing for the 2014 volleyball season. After winning the starting setter position in 2013, she’s expected to keep it. When the fall then turns into the spring, she will return to the girls track team running in both the 100 and 200.
There is the belief that the more competitive environments athletes are in, the better they will become in their favorite sport. Baker accepts that correlation.
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“Track has increased my athleticism and makes me stronger and quicker in my volleyball workouts,” Baker said. “But the best thing that I like about track is that it’s a self-motivator sport. No one else is going to do it for you. You have to do it. That helps me if I’m not having a good practice.”
Baker (5-2) didn’t start 2013 as the starting setter for the Lady Texans. But as the season evolved and former coach Dayna Horak searched for consistency, she turned to Baker. And because her feel for the game turned out to be sharp, Baker wound up beating out two then-seniors for the starting spot (Northwest ran a 6-2 and will run the same in 2014).
Experience made a difference, because Baker had been setting since she was in seventh grade. There was no doubt that she had control of the offense. Northwest advanced to the playoffs again, but was again eliminated in the bi-district round.
“It was a big learning experience for me,” Baker said. “Really, you couldn’t wear your feelings on your shoulders. You couldn’t get angry if something went wrong. It was pointless. I had to tell myself that I was going to fix it.
“I also learned that I had to be creative about what I did with keeping balls alive. If I had to use my forearm, then I used it. The thing for me was that I had to get placement of my feet.”
Expectations for 2014 have changed. Amy Gaston has replaced Horak, who got out of coaching after last fall. While Horak had a reserved approach, Gaston is instant energy and passion. Players are feeding off of that. Since Gaston took over in the spring, the talk of moving past the bi-district round of the playoffs is constant. If Northwest has the Mo, then it has a chance to attain that goal.
“She’s going to bring experience to the setting position that will be crucial to the offense,” Gaston said. “Mo is going to set the tone for her opposite and be a guide for our younger setters. She’s one of the most competitive players in our gym and that will help intensify our training sessions.”
Baker’s future after high school may or may not involve playing in college. Either way, she’s not concerned. At a time when most are spending time specializing in their sport in the club level, Baker wanted to enjoy being a teenager.
“If college happens, I’m going to take advantage of it,” she said. “But right now, my plan is to just help Northwest get ready for the season.”