HAGEN: Overconfidence could be MHS girls' toughest foe this seasonWes Morgan is afraid to be even a little arrogant. The fifth-year head coach of the Mitchell High School girls’ basketball team talks mildly about his defending state champion Kernels, who open their season Tuesday at Brandon Valley.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Wes Morgan is afraid to be even a little arrogant.
The fifth-year head coach of the Mitchell High School girls’ basketball team talks mildly about his defending state champion Kernels, who open their season Tuesday at Brandon Valley.
There’s no boastfulness, bragging or even a sign he’s at the helm of the best girls’ team in the state. Last year, with a team loaded with a non-senior laden roster, Morgan led Mitchell to its first state girls’ title since 2003, finishing a memorable season 24-1.
The Kernels have two first-team all-state players returning this season in Kerri Young and Macy Miller. They are returning four of five starters and have a group of unselfish players who know their roles, adding that perfect touch each game to make them multidimensional.
By the end of the season, this Mitchell girls’ team could possibly be known as the best in school history. The Kernels should win all 25 of their games and claim their second straight state title with no problems.
Why not be proud?
“I think I can be excited, but I don’t have any right to be arrogant,” Morgan said recently while discussing his team’s chances at a perfect season. “I’ve been beaten down too many times.”
Morgan’s up-and-down background on the basketball court has helped him stay level-headed. As a sophomore at MHS, he helped the Gary Munsen-led Kernels to an unbeaten season for a state boys’ title in 1984-85. The next year, Morgan and the Kernels won the state title again.
In his senior season, hoping to go out on top one last time, Morgan’s team lost in the state tournament semifinals to Brookings on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Mitchell was favored to win that season but instead took third.
“That last shot was right over me,” Morgan said. “It was a game that we shouldn’t have lost. We played hard but had too many turnovers.”
In the fall of 1987, Morgan went to Dakota Wesleyan University and played for first-year coach John Morrison, who lasted one year at the school. In his freshman season with the Tigers, Morgan’s team went a depressing 4-24.
Much like his Mitchell girls’ program has done, Morgan’s Wesleyan teams slowly improved each season. Morgan and the Tigers won 10 games when he was a sophomore and made a huge leap when he was a junior, going 21-9 and taking first place in the now-defunct South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference. After a mediocre 16-14 senior season, Morgan was a graduate assistant during the 1991-92 season when the Tigers won 23 games.
“We never got to go to the national tournament when I was with Wesleyan, though,” Morgan said. “It seemed like we always had to go through Northern State, which at the time was still in the NAIA.”
When Morgan took over the Mitchell girls’ program in 2008, he knew it would be a rebuilding process. The first season, Morgan fought through tough growing pains with a group of kids who just weren’t basketball players, but excelled in other sports, for a 4-18 season.
The Kernels missed out on the state tournament in Morgan’s second year at the helm, going 9-13 and falling one game shy of qualifying when they lost in a regional play-in game. After a seventh-place finish at state in 2011, Mitchell and Morgan finished on top last March.
The scary part for other Class AA teams in the state is Morgan says his team improved in the offseason.
“If we can stay healthy and play up to our capabilities, the sky is the limit,” Morgan said. “There’s a very good possibility we could go 25-0. But there are still a lot of good teams and good coaches. If you overlook one team, one night, it’s going to be tough.”
Yes, Mitchell should go undefeated this season en route to a state championship. The Kernels even have the firepower to win every game by double digits.
But Morgan’s past has taught him nothing is guaranteed. He’s also learned how sweet it is to go from the bottom to the top. That’s why he doesn’t brag.
Really, nothing needs to be said when you’re the best.