College Sports

Morgan the Conqueror – UC Davis basketball star has lineage and game

Watch UC Davis women’s basketball team react during NCAA tournament bracket show

The UC Davis women’s basketball team cheers during a televised selection show for the NCAA March Madness tournament bracket on Monday, March 18, 2019, during a party at Woodstock’s pizza.
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The UC Davis women’s basketball team cheers during a televised selection show for the NCAA March Madness tournament bracket on Monday, March 18, 2019, during a party at Woodstock’s pizza.

Morgan Bertsch prefers a full plate.

In her first years at UC Davis, she didn’t just compete in one sport, she dabbled in two. And she didn’t take easy courses, either. She pushed her brain to the limit.

Her major is biomedical engineering. Bertsch is curious how the human body works, how it does what it does, how it heals.

She could write a term paper on her own journey, from college-recruit long shot, to personal and physical growth, to record-setting player. Her path has led into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game against mighty Stanford.

“It’s been an amazing ride for me, and I’m so thankful, so grateful for it, to be here,” Bertsch said.

And her background reveals this amazing tidbit: Bertsch’s lineage is tied to William the Conqueror, her 10-times great grandfather. Slap that on your resume for a conversation starter, Morgan.

Bertsch wasn’t recruited as much as she was discovered out of Santa Rosa High School.

She was long and lanky at 6-feet-4-inches. Her red face then was evidence of how much effort she put into crashing the boards, scoring inside and defending as a centerpiece to a playoff program.

The UCD coaching staff in 2014 was reviewing game film of a potential recruit playing against Santa Rosa when Bertsch caught their eye. They didn’t focus on her shot or tenacity. They saw her stride. Aggies coach Jennifer Gross wondered, “who is that gazelle?”

The UCD coaches scouted Bertsch in person. They were underwhelmed. Bertsch was battling a flu, but the potential was there. She was worth another look, and then, ultimately, a scholarship offer.

Bertsch jumped at the chance to study and compete at UCD. She wanted to compete in track and field, and she set school marks in the high jump.

And she never bemoaned having just one Division I scholarship offer in basketball. She appreciates the opportunity. Now the red face is one of blushing pride, amazed at how far she has come.

“I redshirted my first year to grow, get stronger, and here I am,”

Her place is secure at UCD as an all-time program great. She is the most accomplished player in program history.

Bertsch stands atop the all-time career scoring lists at at UCD, men or women. She shattered the women’s career scoring mark of 1,711 from Carol Rische (1979-83) and the men’s mark of 1,821 held by Audwin Thomas (1975-79).

Her four-year point total is 2,373. Her senior seasonal average is 23.5. Her career average is 18.3. All is proof of perseverance and skill.

But the growing pains – what can the body do and endure? – was on display during her redshirt freshman season. She lifted weights to get stronger. She bulked up her diet to bulk up.

She was a scout-team player in practice. She studied game film. She was the ultimate teammate, waiting her turn.

“That redshirt year was hugely important for me in terms of development,” Bertsch said. “That extra year was what I needed.”

Then Gross and the coaches unleashed her. Bertsch is “a matchup nightmare,” Gross said, because she can score inside and out. She can drive the lane, slither around people or use power.

“She’s an incredible player,” UCD forward Cierra Hall said. “She’s so fun to compete with, a great person, a great teammate, a great leader.”

Gross beams when talking about her anchor.

“She’s special,” the coach said. “She’s amazing, absolutely amazing. The person she is, the teammate she is, the player she is...all amazing. Sometimes in recruiting, you get lucky. I’d like to say we had a crystal ball, but we didn’t.

“All the credit goes to Morgan. She dedicated herself. She wanted to get better, and she did. Just special.”

Bertsch will not compete in the high jump this spring. She will focus on more classes, more discoveries. She will graduate in June.

Bertsch may have a professional basketball future, a chance to play in the WNBA or travel the world as a player overseas. She credits teammates and coaches for her UCD experiences.

She smiles when thinking of her family members, too, about how they mastered their craft. Bertsch has an uncle who is an engineer working in the Silicon Valley. Her sister McKennan earned degrees in environmental engineering at UC San Diego and works in the city. Her father Vincent has taught engineering courses at Santa Rosa Junior College for more than 30 years.

She has engineering genes to go with athletic genes. Bertsch’s mother, Kristeen, played basketball at UC Santa Barbara, and her grandfather, Joseph “Digger” McAnulty, was a three-sport athlete and scholar at the University of La Verne. McAnulty and wife Jean have attended every UCD home game the last four years.

They will be at Maples Pavilion on Saturday, as will scores of family and friends.

“My grandfather was my coach since I started playing,” Bertsch said. “He’s the one who got me in the drive way to put up shots. He taught me so much. And he played three sports in college, so he one-upped me.”

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