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Decade’s best No. 2: Bucktail’s Maria Morgan grew into a Clinton County legend

The more she played, the more fans followed her. Maria Morgan drew a crowd at Bucktail basketball games, making them must-see events. She drew a crowd officiating youth basketball games as kids wanted to meet her. And she certainly drew a crowd on the court, opponents often double or triple teaming her.

Morgan stood only 5-foot-6, but her impact was immense and her accomplishments even greater.

From 2011-15, she grew into a Clinton County legend, doing things crowds had never seen before and may never again. An underdog player from an underdog town, Morgan grew into one of the state’s most dominant Class A players, bringing statewide recognition by becoming Bucktail’s first all-state player, doing so three times, twice making the first team.

Morgan brought Bucktail so much joy and the community responded by helping her bring out her out her best. Together that combination produced one of the best players in area history.

“Everyone in Bucktail supports you no matter what. It’s like a second family and it’s an honor to feel like you have everyone behind you,” Morgan said after earning all-state honors as a sophomore. “I didn’t even know about (all-state) until after I started playing varsity and Tierney Pfirman was on it. I thought maybe I can get there someday, but when I was younger I didn’t even know any of this was going to happen.”

Few others did either. Oh, the community and her opponents knew Morgan was special, but expecting anyone to achieve what she did would be crazy. The explosive point guard with moves upon moves and laser-like vision on the court, shattered the Clinton County scoring record and is second only to Montoursville legend Kelly Mazzante among career area scoring leaders, producing 2,407 points.

An enormous fish in a small bond, Morgan was a marked player each game, but no one ever figured out how to slow her and she averaged 26.7 points per game throughout her scholastic career.

And do not go thinking Morgan was just a scorer. She could cut up a defense like a surgeon, dealing 640 career assists.

“Everyone asks about the points all the time. I just don’t want the points to define who I am,” Morgan said following a 32-point, 11-steal, nine-assist performance in a 2014 win at Muncy. “That’s why I love assisting because it kind of makes you the player you are and shows the different aspects of the game. I want people to say that girl’s from Bucktail and she’s an all-around team player and a team player.”

Morgan was like a painter who mastered several strokes. An excellent defender as well, Morgan lapped the area field last decade with 543 steals and added 446 rebounds. She was every bit as complete as she was explosive.

“She’s just an all-around athlete, offensively and defensively,” Bucktail Carl Gentzyel said in 2014. “She can score, she hustles, she plays well defensively, she blocks shots, gets steals gets assists … whatever it takes. She’s just a great player all-around.”

Morgan’s older brother, A.J., was a 1,000-point scorer at Bucktail and his sister immediately showed she was headed for greatness as a freshman, topping 20 points per game and helping the Bucks reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000. She would do so in two of the next three years as well, culminating with a senior year in which she helped Bucktail win a program-record 17 games.

The rest of the district started catching on during Morgan’s sensational sophomore season. In addition to leading District 4 in scoring for the first of three straight seasons, Morgan also delivered 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. A three-time Sun-Gazette Player of the Year, Morgan was so potent that she had a hand in all 50 points during a loss at St. John Neumann that season, scoring 25 points and dealing 12 assists.

The word was out that Bucktail had a special player doing special things and Morgan earned third team all-state honors, making history in the process. By the end of that season, she already had totaled 1,159 points.

“It’s something to come back to and know you were the first and something to always be proud of. It lets your school get out there and be on the map for once,” Morgan said. “It’s a lot of late nights, definitely. This season was a surprise. I kept working hard and my team helped and supported me all the way up as did my coaches and family.”

Earning all-state only fueled Morgan’s already raging competitive fire even more. Third team was impressive, but she wanted more and she went out and earned it. Despite losing two key starters, Morgan helped Bucktail make a five-win improvement and return to the playoffs, averaging 27.5 points, 7.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 steals per game. By her second game that season, Morgan already had broken A.J.’s school scoring record of 1,131 points with a 44-point eruption against Austin and finished the year with 1,763 points.

Morgan, who enjoyed a quality collegiate career at St. Vincent, was unguardable at times. One of the district’s quickest ball-handlers, she could blow past defenders and score at will off the dribble. Play off her and Morgan could drain the 3-pointer. She also dazzled in transition. Of course, if defenses put all their resources into slowing her, Morgan would make them pay and pile up the assists.

“I don’t think there’s any question she’s the best we’ve played. She’s a real nice player and a good kid,” Neumann coach Steve Sholder said after a Neumann win in which Morgan went off for 23 points, 10 assists, six steals and six rebounds. “She’s a great player to go against. We always know it’s going to be a good game when you play them. She’s a great competitor.”

And by season’s end Morgan was one of the state’s six greatest Class A players. Morgan was named a first team all-state selection, something that once seemed unfathomable at this small school.

“You always have to not dwell on the season before and you have to rise from it and I used that as motivation. I was third team last year and I didn’t want to stay there. I wanted to keep moving forward,” Morgan said. “I’m first team because of my teammates. We rose from a lot this year.”

The rise continued a year later. Morgan was virtually unstoppable, averaging 28 points, 9.5 assists, a decade area-best 7.7 steals and five rebounds per game as Bucktail enjoyed its best season ever, going 17-6. Morgan topped 20 points in all but one game, went over 30 points seven times and 40 points twice, matching a career-high with 44 points against Muncy. She also led District 4 in assists and steals, completing quite a triple crown.

If Morgan was not scoring she was almost always assisting her teammates. During a hard-fought 77-67 win at Montgomery, Morgan put on a passing clinic and dealt an area decade-best 21 assists. Oh yeah, she also scored 25 points and had a hand in 68 of the team’s 77 points as Bucktail snapped Montgomery’s six-game winning streak. A few days earlier, Morgan hit a game-tying, buzzer-beating 3-pointer and finished with 33 points, 10 steals and seven assists as Bucktail defeated Sullivan County, 56-54, in overtime.

“You don’t get to see a player like Morgan play very often,” former Montgomery coach Chris Ulrich said. “She is a special kind of athlete.”

That point was driven home when Morgan became a three-time all-state selection, earning first team honors for a second straight season. She had obliterated the Bucktail and Clinton County record books and Morgan averaged more points per game that season than any all-stater in any classification. She also became just the fourth girls player in area history to top 2,000 points, joining an elite fraternity which includes Mazzante, Pfirman and Jill McElhinny.

The work was complete. And what a masterpiece Morgan had produced.

“A lot of people came up to me after games and said to me they came to watch me, not just because of the type of player I am, but for the type of person I am. That hit me hard because having a positive impact on the community means a lot to me,” Morgan said. “I had an amazing team and amazing coaching staff and I felt comfortable. Your senior year is supposed to be memorable. It’s your last hurrah with those people before you go to college and I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a great experience.”

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