Don Gromala knew Morgan Copley had a chance to be something special.
He had no idea that it would happen this soon.
"I was definitely surprised by her," said Gromala, who has been the Kent State University head women’s volleyball coach since 2012. "We knew she could step into matches eventually. She did things much sooner than we thought."
She certainly did.
The 2019 Aurora graduate was named to the Mid-American Conference Freshman Team after a stellar first season with the Golden Flashes.
Copley, a freshman right-side hitter, ranked second in points per set (2.91) and third in kills per set (2.67) among MAC freshmen. Her .274 hitting percentage ranked second overall among players who averaged at least 2.5 kills per set. Copley also posted double-digit kills in 10 matches against MAC opponents.
Thanks to the contributions of its gifted freshman, Kent State finished 14-15 last fall. The Flashes also advanced to the MAC Tournament despite a 7-9 record against their conference rivals.
Copley certainly had a say in her team’s strong finish in 2019. And the two-time All-Suburban League American Conference selection doesn’t plan to rest on her laurels anytime soon.
"My transition from high school to college was very smooth," said Copley, who is majoring in pre-nursing. "I previously came from a volleyball club that was highly competitive and it had a rigorous travel schedule. It really prepared me for the demands of a Division I sport."
Copley immediately became a household name despite playing in a somewhat unfamiliar system. For Copley, her approach goes something like this: fast, faster, fastest. She thrived in such an uptempo offense for her club team, The Academy of Volleyball in Cleveland.
When Copley got to Kent State, she was told something that may have seemed completely foreign to her since her previous coaches always preached a need for speed.
"The system she was used to seeing with her club team is faster than what we do at Kent State," Gromala said. "It was an adjustment period. Once she got going, she had some huge matches."
Copley had a knack for delivering when it mattered most too. If the Flashes needed a critical kill or block, their freshman sensation always seemed to have a knack for delivering.
"Morgan handled the big moments in conference play," Gromala said. "We had a couple of five-set games when she was the difference."
Copley has enjoyed her experience immensely at the public research university that was founded in 1910. Of course, it’s still college, though. And college isn’t meant to be easy.
"I absolutely love Kent State," Copley said. "After playing my first season, I realized that I had made the right decision. I couldn’t ask for better teammates. We have a great culture and good chemistry. The coaching staff is very knowledgeable and friendly. I quickly felt like I was right at home.
"Trying to juggle volleyball and academics has been a challenge, but it has taught me self-discipline and time management."
Considering all of her accomplishments, it would be easy to think the 6-foot Copley will be a mainstay in Kent State’s starting lineup for the rest of her career.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works. Year after year, Division I programs like Kent State are determined to recruit high-quality talent. Therefore, Copley will be forced to constantly look over her shoulder since a future teammate will be anxious to take her spot.
She wasn’t exactly bulletproof last season either. Copley was pushed hard by 6-foot-1 sophomore Melissa Kolurbasi, who is a promising right-side hitter in her own right.
"We had two very talented right sides," Gromala said. "Morgan stepped up more from a blocking standpoint. The defensive part of Morgan’s game is strong."
Copley knows some friendly competition will not only make her a better player, but it also will help her team turn the corner as well.
She believes that particular turn will come sooner than later.
"We had a decent season with a very young team," Copley said. "Making it to the MAC Tournament was one of our goals that we were able to achieve. We have some very strong recruits coming to campus to join us in the fall. I truly believe we are going to be a powerhouse in the MAC moving forward."
Like most Division I college coaches, Gromala plans to go into the 2020 season with a "clean slate." At the same time, though, the veteran coach has a feeling that won’t be an issue with a certain special standout freshman.
"The best way to describe Morgan is that she’s steady and dependable," Gromala said. "She’s very mature for her age in the way she interacts with her teammates. Overall, she’s a great young woman."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.