Dropping the hammer: A healthy Hammerbeck has Winner rolling into regions
WINNER -- When Winner began the season 1-2, something was amiss. That missing piece was outside hitter Morgan Hammerbeck.
An all-state selection for the Warriors’ Class A sixth-place squad last season, Hammerbeck suffered an Achilles injury during track and field last spring and a basketball and volleyball-filled summer exasperated the problem.
Placed in a walking boot for a few weeks, Hammerbeck returned to the lineup in mid-September and Class A No. 5 Winner has been on a roll since. The 24-4 Warriors have racked up 15 consecutive wins to earn the top seed in Region 7A and appear primed for another run to the state tournament.
“The girls kind of seemed lost without her,” Winner head coach Jaime Keiser said. “They didn’t seem to know exactly what to do. It made a big difference. I’m not saying we didn’t have girls step up and do a nice job, but it was just different. Especially the leadership part that you can’t replace.”
Hammerbeck hardly missed a beat upon her return, recording 15 kills in her season debut against Lyman on Sept. 17. Since, the 6-foot senior has 339 kills, compared to 63 errors on 829 hitting attempts. She has also added 236 digs and 15 blocks to show off a well-rounded skill set.
Of course, Winner benefits from physical attributes that have Hammerbeck prepared to sign with Black Hills State University to play basketball later this month, but her ability as a leader has been the biggest aid for the Warriors.
Her role as a leader comes after watching older players prior trips to state tournaments in volleyball and basketball. Sidelined with an injury for the first time in her athletic career, Hammerbeck -- one of Winner’s two seniors -- felt responsible for the team’s early funk.
“I knew that I would have to step it up as a vocal leader or a leader on the floor,” Hammerbeck said. “I took a backseat as an underclassman, so it was hard to watch other people take my role. But I knew it was for the best, and now with where are, we’re doing fine. It worked out.”
Aside from initial soreness after the first match back, Hammerbeck has not experienced any additional issues from her Achilles. In fact, her confidence on the court has never been higher and it has been evident on the court.
“She’s a smarter overall player,” Keiser said. “She’ll hit away, hit away, the defense moves back and she’ll roll-shot it right into a hole. She’s just really aware of what’s going on on the other side of the net.”
Hammerbeck leads a group of eight players from last season’s team that reached the state tournament and was one of five players that also propelled Winner to a state title in basketball.
Meanwhile, players such as Ellie Brozik and Kalla Bertram emerged as key performers at the net during Hammerbeck’s absence.
The Warriors believe those experiences have them on course to return to the state tournament this season and avenge what they believe was a lackluster opening-round loss to Elk Point-Jefferson.
“We talk in practice to set your mind to when you’re going to win, not if you’re going to win,” Hammerbeck said. “That’s just how everybody talks and that’s how we play. Set the confidence high and everyone should play better.”
Winner hosts the winner of Monday’s contest between Bennett County and Red Cloud at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to advance to the SoDak 16.