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Athlete of the week: Koepsell shining in sophomore campaign

MONTROSE -- After a breakout freshman season, there hasn't been a sophomore slump for Morgan Koepsell. The 6-foot-1 center for McCook Central/Montrose averaged 20.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game as a freshman and has only expanded ...

McCook Central/Montrose's Morgan Koepsell, left, dribbles the ball as Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Makela Karst, right, chases her during a high school girls basketball game earlier this year at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
McCook Central/Montrose's Morgan Koepsell, left, dribbles the ball as Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Makela Karst, right, chases her during a high school girls basketball game earlier this year at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

MONTROSE - After a breakout freshman season, there hasn't been a sophomore slump for Morgan Koepsell.

The 6-foot-1 center for McCook Central/Montrose averaged 20.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game as a freshman and has only expanded on those numbers this season, leading MCM to a 9-3 start.

Last week, Koepsell had two double-doubles in two wins for the Fighting Cougars. On Jan. 18 against Baltic, Koepsell flirted with a triple-double and finished the game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in 77-37 win. On Friday, she poured in a season-high 33 points and 11 rebounds as the Fighting Cougars topped Flandreau 53-37 in Salem.

"She's capable of those numbers any night," McCook Central/Montrose head coach Doug Durfee said. "It just depends what kind of defense is played against us and the matchups we have. She's the focal point of our offense and we want to get her the ball as much as possible."

For her efforts on the court last week and this season, Koepsell has been named The Daily Republic's athlete of the week, an award voted on by the newspaper's sports staff.

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Through 11 games this season, Koepsell is averaging 20.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.45 blocks and 1.5 assists per game. She is shooting 59 percent from the field, converting 100-of-169 field goals, and has hit the 30-point mark three times.

Equally impressive to Koepsell's stat line are the conditions she has overcame to achieve them. Durfee said Koepsell has overcome an ankle injury earlier this season and, most recently, an illness that kept her from being 100 percent in the past couple of weeks.

"For her to be putting up these numbers, while going through all that stuff, makes it even more impressive," Durfee said. "She's a great teammate and she'll help the team get into an offensive flow."

Koepsell's transformation into one of the state's top post players hasn't surprised Durfee, who has coached Koepsell for the past four years at the varsity level. But the 12th-year head coach said the budding star has come a long way from her time on team as a seventh-grader.

"The change from a seventh-grader to a sophomore has been dramatic, but she really turned the corner as a freshman last year," Durfee said. "She really matured as a player and as an individual last year, and this year has been much of the same."

Koepsell said she's improved her play in the post the most, but added she's enjoyed an uptick on shooting the ball from long range as well. The combination of a 6-foot-1 center sinking 3-pointers is a deadly combination on the basketball court and one that has been a pleasant surprise for Durfee.

"She's really tough in the low post because she has great moves," Durfee said. "She's versatile though. She can shoot the 15-footer and she's even expanded out and hit some threes for us, too. There's not many players that can do all three spots like that, but anywhere inside of 10 feet is her money spot."

Koepsell's newly expanded range was showcased on the Corn Palace floor in the girls Hanson Classic on Jan. 16. Against No. 2 Mount Vernon/Plankinton, Koepsell was up against the Titans' Megan Bultsma, a South Dakota State commit, and used her long-range shooting to her advantage by drilling a 3-pointer and a 17-footer when Bultsma wouldn't come out of the paint to defend her.

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"We didn't know she could shoot threes like that," MV/P head coach Bill Marquardt remarked after the Region 5A battle. "She's a good player and if she adds that to her game, she's going to be a load to try and guard for everybody."

Koepsell, who was a Class A second team all-state selection last year, credited her teammates for her successful season on the court - noting MCM junior point guard Rachael Laetsch.

"Racheal, as my point guard, helps a lot," Koepsell said. "I don't think I could play as well without her. I like playing with my team. The girls are a lot of fun."

Family affair

Scoring points and having success on the basketball court is a family affair for Koepsell.

Koepsell comes from a strong basketball family, as she's the daughter of former Mitchell Kernel and Dakota Wesleyan University standout Ronda (Morgan) Koepsell and former Howard Tiger standout Heath Koepsell. Ronda was recently inducted inducted into the Mitchell High School/Mitchell Athletic Booster Club Hall of Fame and was a two-time all-state and all-conference selection, along with being a part of the first-ever state championship winning girls basketball team in Mitchell.

"My mom and dad push me to do my best," Morgan Koepsell said. "It gives me something to strive for. She (Ronda) was a great player and sometimes I try to be like her and my dad."

Durfee called the Koepsells "very basketball minded" and added the family lineage is just another example of positive support helping the young sophomore standout.

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"Both parents were basketball players in high school and college," Durfee said. "I'm sure there's more emphasis on getting to the gym in the offseason and if the parents enjoy doing it, naturally the kids follow along and do it with them."

With half of the sophomore season and two more high school seasons left to go, Durfee said Morgan Koepsell will continue to put up impressive numbers.

"Morgan has the option to do whatever she wants to," Durfee said. "There's room for improvement anywhere because you can always get better when you are only 15 years old, and she can continue to put up some very impressive numbers."

For Morgan Koepsell, finding a way to win the Region 5A championship this season would be more than enough than whatever her basketball future holds.

"We just want to keep winning," Koepsell said. "We want to get to state."

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