Freshman Taylor Morgan is a budding two-sport star with a deep desire to win.
Blaine freshman Taylor Morgan loaded herself into the starting blocks at last month's Hamline Elite Meet, paying her sore groin little mind while visualizing the reckoning.
Some of the older competitors in the 100-meter dash had defeated her at summer camps run by Morgan's father, Gophers women's track and field coach Matt Bingle. Shoveling that knowledge like coal into an internal blast furnace of competitive spirit, Morgan won the race in 12.76 seconds. Never mind that her mother, Jennifer, implored her not to run.
"The way I am, I don't care about the pain until I am on a gurney going to the hospital," Morgan said. "I run. If someone is even a millimeter ahead of me, I'm going to keep fighting until I beat them."
Though a young freshman -- she turned 14 in November -- Morgan has long been competitive beyond her years. She started walking at nine months of age and consistently ranked in the 100th percentile for height and weight. Her performances in volleyball and track and field make her one of the state's budding two-sport stars.
As a middle blocker with a tremendous vertical leap, Morgan became an integral part of a Blaine volleyball team ranked in the top five in Class 3A much of the season. In addition to her Elite Meet victory, Morgan ran a leg of the Bengals' school record-breaking 4x200 relay (1 minute, 43.52 seconds) at the Class 3A, Section 5 True Team meet.
Morgan has grown throughout a freshman year both triumphant and trying. She began the volleyball season on junior varsity and the groin soreness has limited her time on the track this spring. She is learning to socialize less at meets in favor of warming up properly to avoid injury and focus on the race ahead.
Given the choice between helping a young athlete focus vs. trying to instill competitiveness, Blaine girls' track and field coach Ann Stalboerger will take an athlete such as Morgan any day.
"She's got the fire," Stalboerger said. "She runs with heart every time. You can't teach that."
It's a product of both nature and nurture. Her parents, Matt and Jennifer, were accomplished collegiate track and field athletes, though Matt is not Taylor's biological father.
For years, Matt, who is white, and Taylor, who is black, have referred to one another as father and daughter, and acted much the same. But a difference in skin tone and last name has caused some confusion.
"At the Elite Meet the starter came up and said, 'I see you're from Blaine. Do you know Matt Bingle's daughter?'" Taylor said. "I'm like, 'That's me.'"
Taylor's parents fulfill complementary roles in her track and field success. Jennifer is the emotional rock, joining Matt's father in full-throated support of Taylor during meets. Matt is the quiet technical advisor, offering tips but hoping to avoid over-coaching.
"We talk a lot about just competing and not worrying about results," Matt Bingle said. "She's young and there is a lot to work on, but she's got a ton of guts and love for the sport."
Blaine volleyball coach Celeste Gorman said Morgan started as a raw athlete "in need of technical training and confidence-building." Even as she progressed on the court, Morgan showed her youth.
"During the section final she made a few errors and I could see some tears in her eyes," Gorman said. "We took her out and she calmed down. She's a superb athlete and she's really competitive."
Stalboerger expects future contributions from Morgan in the 200 and jumping events. Nagging injuries mean Morgan's accomplishments later this season will be the product of tenacity as much as talent.
If the Elite Meet is any indication, she has both in large supply.
"She could barely walk before the meet," Jennifer Morgan said. "I told her not to run but she said, 'Nope, I know my body.' I don't know what happened when that gun went off."
Morgan knew exactly what she wanted to see happen.
"When I was younger, there would always be someone older than me that just happened to be in my event and they would destroy me," Morgan said. "I used to beat myself up about it. So to come back and win it was a little revenge. It felt good."