Tall and talented are just the beginning
This story appeared in the Colorado edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
Morgan Broekhuis is volleyball's answer to a 7-foot-6 point guard. The 6-foot-5 Colorado Springs Christian (Colorado Springs, Colo.) senior always appears out of position when she takes her place at right setter.
Why wouldn't the tallest player in Colorado's Class 3A play one of the hitter positions? Broekhuis appears to have answered that question now that she is one of the top setters in the country.
As a junior last fall, Broekhuis was named Gatorade State Volleyball Player of the Year after lifting CSC to its fifth consecutive state championship. A member of the 2009 U.S. Women's Junior National Team, she has accepted a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where she will play for a program with three national titles (1995, 2000, 2006) to its credit. Last fall, Broekhuis was named the National Christian School Athletic Association Player of the Year. She entered this fall rated the nation's No. 2 senior by PrepVolleyball.com.
Broekhuis made the transition to setter from center hitter prior to her freshman year at Colorado Springs Christian. Her club coach, Bill Peer of the Colorado Juniors Volleyball Club, believed that Broekhuis, who is a left-handed, soft-spoken player who shies away from the individual spotlight, was better suited in a complementary role.
As a left-handed setter playing on the right side, Broekhuis could volley to her strong side. Peer felt that skill would eventually be a greater advantage than her genetic predisposition for being tall. Morgan's father, Mike (6-foot-3), mother, Lisa (6-foot-1), and brother, Taylor (6-foot-10), all stand more than six feet.
"She fought being a setter for three years," Peer says. "Everyone at that age loves hitting. She didn't even like watching setters to scout the proper technique."
Broekhuis earned a starting job on the CSC team as a freshman and played an active role in the team's third consecutive state title. Her breakout performance came in the state tournament as a sophomore. Several of the key players from the first three CSC championship teams had graduated the previous fall, and the team struggled through a seven-loss regular season. Many assumed CSC's title run would end that season, but Broekhuis dominated in the postseason, earning state tournament MVP.
"I've had the opportunity to win many state titles, but my sophomore year was the most special," Broekhuis says. "No one expected us to do it, and we surprised everyone. From that point on, I never expected to lose."
Mike Broekhuis, Morgan's father and the head coach at CSC, said his daughter's late-season performance as a sophomore prompted increased communication with college recruiters, many of whom stated their belief that there is no athletic ceiling for Morgan. Some predicted she would someday represent the United States in the Olympics. Others predicted she'd play professionally. Others surmised she'd play on the beach in Europe.
"You don't find many setters who are 6-5 and left-handed," Mike Broekhuis says. "Morgan's style will carry over to the next level because she doesn't need to hit the ball 100 miles per hour to score. Parents always talk about how she's never even looking for the ball when she's jumping, she's looking for holes in the defense."
Despite Broekhuis' dominance at the state level, the U.S. Junior National Team was slow in accepting the idea of a 6-foot-5 setter. Broekhuis tried out for the National Team after her freshman year and was denied a roster spot. As a sophomore, she made the training team but was not invited to play in matches. Last fall, she was invited to represent the team for the first time.
"I always thought USA Volleyball was being shortsighted," Peer says. "They have never had a 6-foot-5 setter in the pipeline, and couldn't wrap their heads around it. They'd take shorter setters because it was the easy thing to do. Morgan can help a national team compete with the best teams in the world, not just through the opening rounds of low-level tournaments. They weren't looking at the big picture."
When Broekhuis returned from her international experience as a sophomore, Peer noticed a change in her as a player. She went from being someone who politely pitched in for the good of the team to a player who wanted to take control of big matches. Peer had been waiting for that moment for years.
"She knows she's good, she knows she's tall, but she wants people to like her," says Peer. "So she distributes the spotlight to her teammates. I was actually happy when she could only practice with the national team two years ago because she came back from that experience, and she was finally ticked off."
If not for her size, Broekhuis might not jump out at you on the volleyball court. She rarely shouts instructions or encouragement. You're not likely to see Broekhuis unleash an uncontrolled spike or pump her first after key points. She wants nothing more than to blend in with her teammates.
For Broekhuis' part, she says she wants to be remembered as someone who "is not just tall and can jump high." She wants opponents to remember how nice she was when she played against them. For Peer's part, he says the only frustration he has ever reserved for Broekhuis stems from the fact that the tallest setter on most courts intentionally tries to avoid intimidating opponents.
There is reason to believe Broekhuis will continue to improve at Nebraska. She has yet to specialize in one sport. As a junior last winter, she was All-Tri Peaks League in basketball. She also has yet to begin training twice a day and claims to still have a sweet tooth.
Broekhuis plans to graduate high school later this month and report to Nebraska for the spring semester. She'll get a jump-start on her freshman season by practicing with some of the nation's top college players for the entire spring.
It's likely she will be the first 6-foot-5 freshman to join a national powerhouse with the sole intention of setting up her teammates. If all goes well, she likely won't be the last.