By Brad Morris
Morgan Blakeman grew up believing that basketball was her favorite sport and that she would one day take her talents to the collegiate ranks.
Or at least that was until her junior year.
“When a lot of people here in town hear the last name of Blakeman, the first thing that comes to their mind is basketball,” said Morgan Blakeman, whose older sister Jordin was a 1,000-point scorer for the Circleville Tigers. “I’ve gradually found my love for volleyball and then one day last season it just clicked for me.
“I realized that volleyball blows basketball out of the water and that I was going to take a different path.”
That path has included becoming one of the top hitters in the Mid-State League Buckeye Division and Southeast District with 351 kills this season and giving a verbal commitment to play collegiately at Ohio Christian University.
“I love the intensity of playing volleyball and the pace of the game. That’s what stole my heart,” Blakeman said. “There is nothing like a long rally and asking one of my teammates to give me the next ball and having the determination to put that ball away. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Blakeman traces the evolution of her game and passion for volleyball back to her sophomore season when she was the Tigers’ second-leading hitter behind All-Ohioan Kenzie McConnell with 284 kills.
“Playing with Kenzie and (setter Jayla Parsons) taught me things and helped make me the player that I am today,” Blakeman said. “Going against Kenzie (a six-foot middle hitter) in practice daily was definitely challenging, starting with trying to hit around her.”
Blakeman took over as the Tigers’ top hitter last season and put away 379 kills, despite being the focal point that defenses schemed to try and contain since the middle hitter accounted for 44.6 percent of the team’s kills in 2021.
“I learned a lot from that experience, and I wanted to work on becoming more than a girl that was just known as someone who pounded the volleyball all the time,” Blakeman said. “I worked on tipping and throwing to go along with being able to pound the volleyball.
“I wanted to make it harder to defend me, because teams just couldn’t roll up their block expecting me to pound the ball. I worked on finding the open spots on the floor to hit to more, how to use the block better and also how to negate the block better.”
With more options to utilize on offense this season, Blakeman has seen fewer sets but still accounts for 37.9 percent of the kills the Tigers have put away.
“Morgan knew coming into the season that she’d have fewer opportunities to swing than she did last season, so she’s worked hard on improving the quality of the swings that she gets and can do more things than she has been able to in the past,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “Having more hitters this season has made us a harder team to defend and amplifies what Morgan can do for us out there on the court. She is a game-changing player and has the ability to take over a set in a critical situation.”
Blakeman set two career milestones earlier this month, reaching 1,000 kills in the first set of a win over Amanda-Clearcreek and 1,000 digs in the third set of another win against Teays Valley.
“I made it a personal goal during my sophomore year to get 1,000 kills,” said Blakeman, who is second on the team with 374 digs. “I figured then that I was decent at volleyball and that if I worked at it then I could become good enough to achieve a milestone like that. Along the way, that’s when volleyball became such a joy for me to play.
“I’m also proud of having 1,000 digs. When I started playing varsity, I was just a three-rotation player and coach and I had some talks about why I wasn’t playing a full rotation and what I needed to do in order to be a full rotation player. I’m proud of all the work that I put in to be able to play all around on the court, and that’s also added another component to my offense with pounding the ball out of the back row. That’s something that a lot of girls don’t do.”
Perkins complimented Blakeman for the energy she plays with and how the senior has expanded her game.
“Morgan is a player who has a tremendous amount of energy and when she learned to channel that energy, it allowed her to take her game to another level,” she said. “She lacked a little confidence at first when we asked her to play back row, but she’s worked hard at it and has become a solid full rotation player.
“That’s important, because Morgan is an offensive threat from all six positions on the court, when she serves the ball, and she can also play some scrappy defense.”
The Tigers (19-3) open tournament play on Wednesday as the top-seed in the Division II Southeast District tournament when they host Jackson (10-9) for a sectional final. Blakeman and her six senior teammates are determined to put their senior season on the banner and become the first CHS volleyball team to win a district championship since 1984.
“It’s our job as seniors to make sure we are prepared, focused and ready to play our game,” Blakeman said. “We had a tough week (earlier this month) when we lost a set to Amanda-Clearcreek and a match to Liberty Union, because we underestimated them, and we weren’t ready like we needed to be.
“We can’t let that happen again. When we play our game and play with momentum then we are a difficult team to beat.”
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