Aussie libero Morgan a stabilizing influence on Griffins as they head into semester finale

David Morgan has 80 digs in 10 matches - tied for fourth best in the Canada West men's volleyball ranks (Chris Piggott photo).
David Morgan has 80 digs in 10 matches - tied for fourth best in the Canada West men's volleyball ranks (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – David Morgan realized when he was young that a career in Australian Rules Football wasn't going to be in the cards.

Rugby wasn't going to be his sport either, even if his great grandfather Duncan Thompson is in the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame and was listed in 2008 among the 100 greatest Aussie rugby players of the 20th century for his legendary play with the North Sydney Bears.

So, Morgan tried practically every sporting endeavour available in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia – swimming, soccer, cricket, athletics and tennis.

But it was volleyball – not a hugely popular sport Down Under – that ended up choosing him.

"I think people realized I was going to be good at volleyball before I did," said the MacEwan University Griffins libero. "I was 6-foot in Grade 8.

"Eventually I just picked it up and was in the system. Then I realized there were opportunities in this and I really enjoyed it."

Morgan started playing high school volleyball in Grade 9, which led to a spot on the national champion Queensland U15 team. After that, he continued on a path that would lead him to youth national squad with thoughts of making volleyball part of his future.

His first stop after high school was in 2016 with Grande Prairie Regional College when head coach Mitchell Schneider answered his e-mail and gave him a spot on the Wolves. But his goal was always to play in the university ranks, which is why he decided to transfer to MacEwan this season.

"Obviously the ACAC's a pretty important development league, so I make sure I'm talking to those coaches a lot," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "I know the coach in Grande Prairie pretty well. We started chatting about him in his first year. He was playing left-side for them. He had some left-side experience with the youth national team, but his plan was to go libero.

"He contacted us last year and we started to focus on him a little bit more. I liked the way he played the game and we brought him in for a visit and were able to get him to come play for us."

Morgan, who will lead the Griffins into their final action of the first semester on Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (6:30 p.m.) against Winnipeg, has been a revelation at the libero position. In solidifying the position for MacEwan, he has a team-high 80 digs in 10 matches – tied for fourth-best in the entire Canada West men's volleyball ranks.

"It's a leadership and communication role – organizing our passing," said Morgan. "It's really part and parcel with having good teammates. As a new player coming in, they've given me room to move, so it's really helped me settle in."

The Griffins went through last season trying to use converted outside hitters Jordan Krause and Kai Hesthammer at the position, a plan which was abandoned with Morgan's arrival.

"Unfortunately, we've kind of tried different things at libs the last couple of years and nothing's really stuck," said Poplawski. "It is a very nuanced position. It's so much more than passing and defence. Glen Hoag, the national team coach, calls it the captain of reception. You're really in charge of everything in the back court.

"Having a guy that isn't an outside trying to convert and is actually a libero is huge. He's been a stabilizer for us. He understands the position and a lot of the nuances of it."

When a libero has success at the U SPORTS level, teams begin to stop serving at him, so the good ones find other ways to make sure they're contributing.

"There are certain teams we play in this league where if we serve their libero it was a mistake," said Poplawski. "I'm not saying David's quite there yet, but a lot of times when you become a better libs, teams don't serve you ever.

"So, how do you impact the game, how do you make the players around you better still? That's what David's working towards – even if he's not getting served, how can he make our other passers better?"

Morgan gets it.

"Finding a way to contribute is definitely something I've thought about – how we can manipulate the passing around," he said.

"As a libero, I see the role as trying to put your teammates in position to win the game because the libero can't really do it. I just try to make their job easy. That's how I see it."

Morgan and the Griffins come into the weekend on an eight-game losing streak, but it's not as if they've been getting blown out. In every match – most notably taking U SPORTS No. 5 Alberta to the limit in a five-set loss – they've had a chance, even if they now have a 2-8 record in the standings. Winnipeg comes in at 3-5.

"We've worked hard to solidify a lot of pieces of our game," said Poplawski. "I know the athletes have it, it's just can we bring it out?

"It's just going to take us playing good volleyball," he continued. "There's no secret, there's no magic, it's just we have to play well. We have to play to our potential and we have to do the things I know we're capable of doing against another very good team."