PAC-12 Pact: Herrera chooses Div. I Washington

Then-sophomore Morgan Herrera practices free-throw shooting prior to Ignacio’s 2018 CHSAA Class 2A State Championships game versus Yuma inside the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. Herrera was a four-year varsity cager in both Colorado (Ignacio, 2016-18) and Washington (La Conner, 2018-20), and despite being known as a basketball and volleyball player will be continuing her student-athlete days as a track-and-field athlete at the University of Washington.
Then-sophomore Morgan Herrera, right, and father Chris gaze intently from the Lady Bobcats’ bench at action transpiring against Durango inside Fort Lewis College’s Whalen Gymnasium during the 2017-18 basketball season. Herrera’s family relocated to the Pacific Northwest prior to the ’18-19 school/athletic year; she recently accepted a walk-on invite from the University of Washington to become a track-and-field athlete, despite being known primarily as a basketball and volleyball player.
Then-freshman Morgan Herrera greets mother Kathy during Senior/Parent Appreciation Day festivities during the Lady Bobcats’ 2016-17 season. Herrera was a four-year varsity cager in both Colorado (Ignacio, 2016-18) and Washington (La Conner, 2018-20), and despite being known as a basketball and volleyball player will be continuing her student-athlete days as a track-and-field athlete at the University of Washington.
Then-freshman Morgan Herrera (30) snags a rebound against Mancos inside IHS Gymnasium during the Lady Bobcats’ 2016-17 season. Herrera was a four-year varsity cager in both Colorado (Ignacio, 2016-18) and Washington (La Conner, 2018-20), and despite being known as a basketball and volleyball player will be continuing her student-athlete days as a track-and-field athlete at the University of Washington.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Ex-IHS volleyball, hoops star taking T&F chance

En route to compiling four-year varsity win-loss records of 66-34 in volleyball and 81-20 in basketball, with two State Championships in the former and four State appearances (with one runner-up result) in the latter on her high-school resume, Morgan Herrera wasn’t surprised when colleges came a-calling.

Particularly when it came to hoops; after all, this was the same girl Ignacio fans watched ably follow in her low-post brothers’ stead for two promising seasons, the same girl who then relocated to the Pacific Northwest, and the same girl whose acclimation to coaches and teammates at La Conner, Wash., was so smooth she helped her new crew to two top-five finishes.

During her senior 2019-20 winter campaign, which unfortunately ended Saturday, March 7, with a 52-45 loss inside Spokane Arena to Spangle-based Liberty in the WIAA Hardwood Classic’s Class 2B grand finale, one NCAA Division I member also started showing interest … but in a different Morgan Herrera.

A Morgan Herrera somewhat unfamiliar to even Morgan Herrera.

And amazingly, THAT Morgan Herrera will be taking a still-developing skill set to college athletics’ premier echelon – as a ‘preferred’ walk-on track-and-field participant at the University of Washington.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said over the May 15-17 weekend (when, under normal circumstances, the Huskies would have been competing at the Pac-12 Conference Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore.) via phone while in Texas visiting sibling Nick. “This year was supposed to be, like, the year [colleges] were watching for me, and since I’d only done track for a year, and now with our season cancelled; I think it’s just a really great accomplishment, you know?”

“Yes, I’ve had a lot of offers for basketball,” admitted the Washington State Girls’ Basketball Coaches Association All-2B selection, who averaged nearly nine points and just over seven rebounds per game, “and volleyball, but I really felt like UW was the right choice, right place for me.”

“UW was a little bit of a surprise for me,” LCHS T&F head coach Peter Voorhees admitted, before also saying, “It does not surprise me that an NCAA D-I school would take a look at her. Based off of what she did.”

“My wife and I both were D-I throwers and Morgan fits the bill for a collegiate track athlete.”

And Herrera certainly could have done much, much worse than accepting an invite from a program boasting the U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association’s reigning National Women’s Field Athlete-of-the-Year (senior pole vaulter Olivia Gruver, who in the truncated ’19-20 indoor/outdoor season recorded the NCAA’s second-best all-time indoor clearance of 15’5”, after setting last spring a new 15’6.25” outdoor standard).

Director of Track & Field and Cross Country at UW since Summer 2018, Maurica Powell – wife of head coach Andy – was reached via e-mail, but responded that due to new NCAA rules (unspecified) she couldn’t comment yet on a role anticipated for Herrera, whose aforementioned walk-on status guarantees her a roster spot.

“It is super exciting around here,” mother Kathy Herrera said. “We can’t wait to see where this new endeavor is going to take her.”

Sold on Washington for multiple reasons, including proximity to home as well as engineering- and/or medical-related (“physical therapy, preferably”) academic tracks, Morgan Herrera mentioned making a connection during the recruiting process with Andrew Ninow, the Huskies’ throws coach.

Which wasn’t without basis; during last May’s WIAA Class 2B State Championships held at Eastern Washington University’s Roos Field, Herrera fired a fourth-place 36’8.5” best, helping LCHS finish seventh out of 41 scoring teams.

“We first got into contact during basketball season. He reached out to me … and we were just talking about what scholarships I could get and stuff like that,” she recalled. “It’s a lot of money to go – being a … walk-on, I don’t get any money my first year – but through the contacts between me and him, I think I’m really going to enjoy the program.”

“I see myself really doing well at shot put and hammer throw,” she continued. “Hammer’s going to be something new to me … so I’m excited to learn how. But I think shot’s going to be my best throw.”

“Morgan came out as a junior and was the fastest girl on our team in the 100 and 200, and also our best thrower in shot and disc,” Voorhees stated. “In the open sprints [her] athleticism shined and it also showed up in the throws.

“Over the course of the year, she improved steadily at about a 1-foot PR every two weeks with no plateau in sight.”

“I think shot and hammer are going to be great fits for her – and possibly discus, too,” he declared. “She will find success and improve her marks there, hopefully moving into a scholarship position.”

While weighing all her options, Herrera said chats with oldest brother and former Fort Lewis College basketball star center Alex proved calming and invaluable.

“All the time I’d ask him if I could call and ask questions,” she stated. “Especially, like, when I was going to have a conversation with another coach, I always asked (Alex) what would be good to ask, to get to know the college – and … he was just really thrilled whenever I told him about University of Washington. Then I decided to commit to them, and he was over-the-moon excited for me.”

“They were all really excited,” she added, referring to her immediate and extended family, “and you could just see it the whole time during the recruiting process, no matter where I went they’d be proud.”

“I want to thank all the coaches that pushed me to be the best that I can be – all the ones at Ignacio and all the ones up here in Washington.”

“She is extremely coachable and isn’t afraid of hard work … very athletic too. Those all point to success,” said Voorhees. “The finer points of throwing are her coach’s responsibility, but I have faith in them. If you think of how many hours she has put in the gym playing volleyball and basketball, and convert a portion of that energy and competitive spirit to track, she will be just fine.”

“La Conner is a small school … blessed with many multisport athletes, so when I heard about Morgan and that she was interested in track I was immediately excited,” he recalled. “Then I watched her play volleyball for the first time and was blown away by how she competes.”

With her final prep-sports season scrubbed, and a scheduled June 11 graduation ceremony also tentative (the cancelled NCAA Div. I Outdoor T&F Championships had been set, coincidentally, for June 10-13 in Austin, Tex.) due to the ongoing coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, Herrera said she’s actually appreciated the time to reflect on her situation.

“Especially nowadays because we have nothing else to do!” she laughed. “But I really enjoy looking back, seeing where I started, and where I’m at now. And it amazes me.”

“My first year at La Conner, I joined the track team … to meet new people. And as it turned out, the first two weeks of track, I loved the sport; it reminded me so much of my past – my mom and dad used to be track coaches – and I just loved being out there all the time. I’d forgotten about it in Ignacio.”

“I was full-basketball when I lived in Ignacio,” she continued, “but now I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m good at other sports too!’ I started exploring that and it’s just changed my whole world.”

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