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KSU volleyball libero keeps the ball, spirits high

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By: Rebekah Fuchko

KENNESAW, Ga. — Kennesaw State Owls volleyball player Katarina Morton’s team spirit stems from her first foray into volleyball — playing alongside her twin sister, Haley Morton, at just 10 years old.

“When we first started out we always fought with each other,” Katarina said. “We realized fighting with each other, we actually ended up losing a lot more games than what we wanted to and so I think the next year we realized that and we started verbally communicating to each other things to do better in a positive way.”

Katarina said communication and constructive criticism became an important part of their strategy and that strategy has carried into Katarina’s volleyball career at KSU.

“There’s a lot of heart and soul on this team, but I do think Kat is the heart and soul of this team,” said Joseph Feldman, Kennesaw State’s Assistant Director of Athletics Communications. “She loves volleyball so much that she’s willing to just throw her body around and do whatever she can to help the team win.”

Morton said her love for volleyball has grown from the connections she’s made with the other players on every team she’s played with and she’s learned how to inspire and critique them because her twin, Haley, was always straightforward with her on how she could improve.

“I took that from her [Haley] and I started doing that to other people,” Morton said. “I started saying stuff in a calm way, but really meaning it too, and so I think that’s the way I communicate things to other people. I feel like they can take it in, even if it’s constructive criticism.”

Morton’s teammate, and fellow defensive player, Morgan Lavigne, has played with Morton for three years and said Morton is extremely competitive so she’s always pushing other players to do their best.

“There’ll be times where we’ll be in practice and she’ll be like ‘come on, you got it,’ and just the passion that she has for her teammates speaks volumes,” Lavigne said. "Just the way she pushes us to be better each and every practice — and herself too — is why she’s been so successful in her volleyball career here.” The Owls made school history this regular season, winning all 10 of their home games for the first time. They’re 19-4 overall for the regular season — a program record for season wins. The team heads to the ASUN tournament at Lipscomb in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, Nov. 17.

Morton was named the ASUN player of the year in 2016 and has played the defensive position of libero since joining the KSU volleyball team her freshman year in the fall of 2014.  

A libero acts as a defensive specialist, mainly there to keep the ball in the air, but the libero can also sub in for almost any defensive player. A libero cannot attack the ball above the plane of the net, so they rarely get offensive plays, or kills.

As of Nov. 11, Morton has the most digs on the team, with 343 for the 2017 fall season — the next best digger comes in at just 192 digs.

“I don’t really think they get that much credit, but when someone makes a giant hit and you’re in there to save it, just knowing that I was the one that kept it up is just the best feeling to me,” Morton said. “Getting kills are awesome, but I think digging a hard kill is even more.”

Morton doesn’t play for her own credit, however. When asked about one of her most memorable plays or moments for this season, she didn’t remember any for herself, but instead bragged on another teammate, outside hitter Lauren Chastang.

“I think the first time one our freshman got a kill, I think I’ll remember that,” Morton said. “Because it was her first kill after coming off of an injury into a game and we were all like ‘wow, our freshman’s finally here.’ That’s one thing that I guess will stick in my head — I just felt so humble and happy for her and it wasn’t even my kill.”

But even if Morton won’t brag on herself, there are others willing to do it for her. Feldman said there are countless things she’ll do that impress him.

“There was one earlier this year,” Feldman said. “We were playing Georgia, and they blocked a shot and it was about to fall down for a point and Kat came out of nowhere, kept the ball up and we ended up winning the point a couple of shots later.”

Feldman also said that, during practice, the hitters on the outside will aim at Morton intentionally because they think “if we can get a kill against Kat, then we can get a kill against anybody.”

Morton was a part of 79 sets this season, tying for first place on the team when it comes to set participation, and Lavigne said Morton has the ability to get digs she’s never seen anybody get.

“There will be times that someone will hit the ball and she will just be there and literally get a dig to where it goes straight to our center and I’m like, ‘how did she do that?’” Lavigne said. “Like, the ability to be in position that quickly, get her hands there and in the right positioning to get the ball to go to our center and make a good play on it after — it baffles me so many times in practice and in games.”

Morton said it all comes down to focus, but she also likes to joke around with her teammates and make every play a competition.

“I look at any back-row player and I’ll make a joke, like ‘hey are you going to dig this next ball?’” Morton said. “It’s a mini game inside of a giant game which I think makes it fun.”

Morton, originally from Texas, said her biggest challenge so far has not been volleyball, itself, or even the work that comes along with her biology major, but being away from her family and her boyfriend. Morton said she especially misses Haley, who plays volleyball at Lamar University, back in Texas.

“Growing up, it was competitive from day one, I think,” Morton said. “If Haley got something, I got something. If she did something, I had to do something. But that’s how we’ve grown into being such competitive sisters — competitive people. We compete all the time.”

Morton said she gets to visit home occasionally, especially over most summers, but last year when she couldn’t make it home for Thanksgiving, members of her “other family” — her team — were willing to take girls in. Morton said she loves to make the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving — a recipe she learned from her mom.

Morton, who has always wanted to be a dentist, plans to go back home to Texas to continue her education there after she graduates from KSU in December 2018. While she will always have a love for volleyball, she wants to take the year off after graduating to heal her body and focus on the career she’s leaning toward: orthodontistry.

Morton said she’s incredibly grateful to be a student athlete because it has taught her to never give up, but she’s excited to go back home to Texas and her family.

“If there was any way I could play volleyball and do what I wanna do, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Morton said. “But of course there’s always gonna be pick-up games I’m gonna be playing. I’m never gonna stop playing volleyball.”