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Pac-12 pact: Herrera chooses Division I Washington

Former Ignacio star taking track and field chance at Washington
Former Ignacio High standout Morgan Herrera will compete for the University of Washington track and field team. Herrera moved from Ignacio to La Conner, Wash., after her sophomore year.

En route to compiling four-year varsity win-loss records of 66-34 in volleyball and 81-20 in basketball, with two state championships in the former and four state appearances with one runner-up result in the latter on her high school résumé, Morgan Herrera wasn’t surprised when colleges came calling.

Particularly when it came to basketball. After all, this was the same girl Ignacio fans watched ably follow in her low-post brothers’ stead for two promising seasons, the same girl who then relocated to the Pacific Northwest, and the same girl whose acclimation to coaches and teammates at La Conner, Washington, was so smooth she helped her new crew to two top-five finishes.

During her senior 2019-20 winter campaign, which ended March 7 with a 52-45 loss inside Spokane Arena to Spangle-based Liberty in the WIAA Hardwood Classic’s Class 2B state championship game, one NCAA Division I member also started showing interest but for another sport.

A sport somewhat unfamiliar to even Herrera.

Amazingly, Herrera will take a still-developing skill set to college athletics’ premier echelon as a preferred walk-on track and field participant at the University of Washington.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “This year was supposed to be the year (colleges) were watching for me, and since I’d only done track for a year and now with our season canceled, I think it’s just a really great accomplishment.”

Herrera, who was a Washington Girls Basketball Coaches Association All-2B selection, said she had college coaches interested in her for basketball after she averaged nearly nine points and more than seven rebounds per game as a senior. Volleyball coaches also were in touch, but she felt Washington and track and field was the right fit for her.

Morgan Herrera, formerly of Ignacio High School, goes up for a shot against Yuma in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Class 2A girls state tournament at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.

“UW was a little bit of a surprise for me,” La Conner High School track and field coach Peter Voorhees admitted. “It does not surprise me that an NCAA D-I school would take a look at her. Based off of what she did. My wife and I both were D-I throwers, and Morgan fits the bill for a collegiate track athlete.”

A family effort

Washington Director of Track and Field and Cross-Country Maurica Powell, wife of head coach Andy Powell, was reached via email, but responded that because of new NCAA rules she couldn’t yet comment yet on a role anticipated for Herrera, whose aforementioned walk-on status guarantees her a roster spot.

“It is super exciting around here,” Herrera’s mother Kathy Herrera said. “We can’t wait to see where this new endeavor is going to take her.”

Sold on Washington for multiple reasons, including proximity to home as well as engineering and/or medical-related academic tracks, Herrera mentioned making a connection during the recruiting process with Andrew Ninow, the Huskies’ throws coach.

During last May’s WIAA Class 2B State Championships held at Eastern Washington University’s Roos Field, Herrera’s fourth-place 36-foot, 8.5-inch best in the shot put helped LCHS finish seventh out of 41 scoring teams.

“I see myself really doing well at shot put and hammer throw,” Herrera said. “Hammer’s going to be something new to me, so I’m excited to learn how. But I think shot’s going to be my best throw.”

Voorhees said Herrera was the team’s fastest runner in the 100 and 200 as a junior as well as the best shot and discus thrower.

Former Ignacio High School standout Morgan Herrera, upper left, helped La Conner High School win back-to-back Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 2B State Championships.

“In the open sprints, her athleticism shined and it also showed up in the throws,” Voorhees said. Over the course of the year, she improved steadily at about a 1-foot (personal record) every two weeks with no plateau in sight.

“I think shot and hammer are going to great fits for her, and possibly discus, too. She will find success and improve her marks there, hopefully moving into a scholarship position.”

While weighing all her options, Herrera said chats with oldest brother and former Fort Lewis College basketball star center Alex proved calming and invaluable.

“All the time I’d ask him if I could call and ask questions,” she said. “Especially when I was going to have a conversation with another coach, I always asked (Alex) what would be good to ask, to get to know the college, and he was just really thrilled whenever I told him about University of Washington. Then I decided to commit to them, and he was over-the-moon excited for me.”

The excitement spilled over the to the entire family, including parents Chris and Kathy.

“I want to thank all the coaches that pushed me to be the best that I can be; all the ones at Ignacio and all the ones up here in Washington,” Herrera said.

Though basketball and volleyball are where Herrera shined most in high school, her field coach has little doubt she can achieve excellence in collegiate field events.

“She is extremely coachable and isn’t afraid of hard work, very athletic, too. Those all point to success,” said Voorhees. “The finer points of throwing are her coach’s responsibility, but I have faith in them. If you think of how many hours she has put in the gym playing volleyball and basketball and convert a portion of that energy and competitive spirit to track, she will be just fine.”

With her final spring sports season scrubbed and a scheduled June 11 graduation ceremony also tentative because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Herrera said she’s actually appreciated the time to reflect on her situation.

Former Ignacio star Morgan Herrera puts up a shot as Emma Fitzgerald of Durango High School reaches in during a 2018 game at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.

“I really enjoy looking back, seeing where I started, and where I’m at now. And it amazes me,” she said. “My first year at La Conner, I joined the track team to meet new people. And as it turned out, the first two weeks of track, I loved the sport; it reminded me so much of my past – my mom and dad used to be track coaches – and I just loved being out there all the time. I’d forgotten about it in Ignacio.

“I was full-basketball when I lived in Ignacio, but now I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m good at other sports, too.’ I started exploring that, and it’s just changed my whole world.”

Did you know

Named a First Team All-2B outside hitter by the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association after helping La Conner win the 2B State Championship in 2018, Herrera closed out her prep-volleyball days in 2019 reportedly holding serve for a repeat-clinching six points in completing a 25-19, 25-15, 25-22 sweep of Colbert Northwest Christian.

In helping La Conner go back-to-back, she downed a reported four kills, two aces, one solo block and was second in serve receptions (15). She earned a spot on the AVCA/Under Armour All-America Athletes list.

All told, the Braves’ talented volleyball and basketball programs went a combined 40-0 in regular-season 2B/1B Northwest action during Herrera’s time in uniform.

On pins and needles

Asked when she’d be required to arrive on campus in Seattle, Herrera wasn’t sure.

“With this whole COVID thing right now, we’re not sure if we are going to start on time,” she said. “So, there has not been a certain date. And it’s been rough, honestly; staying indoors has been rough, but I think I’ve been doing pretty well with what I need to be doing. I could do more, but it’s really hard to transition from being able to work out right at school and then not being able to at all.”

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