It should come as no surprise that Taylor Morgan wound up with the Gophers. She practically grew up on campus, tagging along with her dad, Gophers women’s track and field coach Matt Bingle, and hanging out with the athletes she idolized.
When she was being recruited to play Division I volleyball, though, Bingle urged her to consider all her options. Being a dutiful daughter, she did — for about five minutes.
“I just thought, ‘Why would I want to look anywhere else?’ ” Morgan said. “I told my parents I’d think about it. But when I got home after my unofficial visit, I told them, ‘We need to call [coach Hugh McCutcheon] now.’ ”
Morgan’s time as an athlete at her beloved school hasn’t been easy, with multiple knee surgeries and a platoon of talented upperclassmen forcing her to be patient. As the seventh-ranked Gophers open the Big Ten season Wednesday against No. 4 Penn State, she is finally getting the chance to put her devotion into regular action. Through the first eight matches, the redshirt junior ranks 10th in the nation in blocks per set (1.52) and is fourth on the team in points per set (2.96).
A 6-foot middle blocker, Morgan played sparingly the past two seasons behind All-America honorees Paige and Hannah Tapp and Molly Lohman. That only made her more prepared to step into a bigger role this season.
“Everything here is earned, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,’’ said Morgan, a standout in volleyball and track at Blaine High School. “Coming in, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I had to learn. And my skill set has improved a lot.
“Now that I’m an upperclassman, I feel like I’ve grown up. And I feel like this is our year to do big things.’’
As the child of two track athletes — Matt Bingle was an all-conference hurdler at Ball State, and Jennifer Bingle ran at Eastern Michigan — Morgan gravitated to her parents’ sport before she discovered volleyball. An outstanding sprinter and triple jumper in high school, volleyball appealed to her for a simple reason: She loved to jump and hit the ball as hard as she could.
By seventh grade, she began to prefer the teamwork on the court to the individualism of the track. And after that happy childhood at the U — where Morgan played in the high jump pit, while Gophers athletes babysat her — she was set on playing for McCutcheon.
Bingle, now the Gophers’ director of track and field and cross country, wanted to make sure she had thought things through. He got an answer quickly.
“I was just being a dad,” Bingle said. “Even with the athletes we recruit in women’s track, I always think it’s productive to compare. But this is what you want as a parent, to be able to watch your daughter compete and grow and mature. It’s fun for our whole family to have her playing here.’’
Especially this season, when Morgan has started seven of the Gophers’ eight nonconference matches. As a freshman, she sat out the entire season while recovering from knee surgery, a process she knows well. Morgan has had knee surgery in each of her four years at the U, with one operation on her ACL and three on her meniscus.
She studied the game when unable to play. Fast and strong, with an outstanding vertical leap, Morgan has honed her passing and setting skills and become a better tactician under McCutcheon.
Her 50 kills are tied for third on a hard-hitting team, and her hitting percentage of .374 is second. McCutcheon said Morgan is continuing to improve this season, and her vocal, energetic personality lifts the entire group.
“It’s great to have an athlete of her caliber on our team,’’ McCutcheon said. “She wants to be great, and she wants to help her teammates be great as well. She’s certainly earned the right to be out there.’’
With the Final Four at Target Center in December — and with her knee feeling good after a fourth surgery early this year — Morgan has grand ambitions. She loves playing in front of her parents, and little sisters Allie and Grace, at Maturi Pavilion.
Matt Bingle, in his 16th year at the U, said it’s been rewarding to experience Gophers sports as a father and fan. That has only added to the fun for a daughter determined to stay right where she grew up.
“Wearing Minnesota on my back is just a dream come true,’’ she said. “And after going through all the knee surgeries, to be able to play with the girls I love is truly a blessing. This is the only place I ever wanted to be.’’