Freshman Morgan Heating Up As Softball Begins NCAA Regional
By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – From the moment she set foot on campus, Dani Morgan knew that Florida State felt like home.
Never mind that Florida State's campus was 15 hours from home.
“You just get that feeling,” said Morgan, a freshman on the Florida State softball team and a native of New Lenox, Ill., near Chicago.
The Seminoles are glad that she did.
Morgan braved the 15 hours from New Lenox to Tallahassee (with a one-year stay in Newnan, Ga., that helped ease the transition) and has since become a promising young starter for a program otherwise known for its veterans.
She's the only freshman to start more than 50 games in a lineup that boasts experienced star power at nearly every position, and has rewarded coach Lonni Alameda's faith by hitting .325 with 33 RBIs and four home runs.
Two of those homers came during last week's ACC tournament, which served as coming-out party for Morgan: In three nationally-televised games, Morgan finished 6 for 8 at the plate with two home runs, a triple, five RBIs and five runs scored.
It was enough give Morgan tournament MVP honors, as well as a fresh jolt of confidence heading into this week's NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
The host Seminoles, seeded fourth overall in the NCAA tournament, begin regional play against No. 4-seed Princeton Friday at 7 p.m.
“That weekend was huge in the sense of (Morgan) gaining some confidence swinging the bat,” Alameda said. “I'm excited for her and opportunities this weekend.”
To Alameda, Morgan's emergence is the latest evidence of the culture established at Florida State during her nine-year tenure: Recruit freshmen, teach them to meet expectations, then, have them set the standard for the younger players that follow.
“I think the freshmen, I kind of view them as sophomores almost with the length of the season and how good our upperclassmen have been to let them know what to expect this time of year,” Alameda said. “It's awesome, but we recruit kids to step in those positions as a freshmen.”
That's not to say it's easy from Day 1.
Morgan's high-school accolades were certainly up to par, having earned All-Region honors in both Illinois and Georgia.
And, in addition to FSU, she garnered scholarship offers from college softball powers Michigan and Alabama.
So Morgan knew she could play. Still, stepping into a dugout that features the reigning ACC pitcher of the year (Jessica Burroughs), player of the year (Powers and home-run champ (Jessica Warren) can be a little intimidating for even the most accomplished of high-school stars.
“It's pretty nerve-wracking,” Morgan said with a smile. “But everyone did a good job of welcoming me in the family aspect of (the program).
“You get comfortable really quick with everyone.”
That's a welcome development for this year's Seminoles, who have aspirations that extend far beyond a regional weekend.
FSU is among the favorites to reach the Women's College World Series, and, Morgan continuing her recent tear would go a long way in helping the Seminoles make a deep run there.
And regardless of how this season turns out, Florida State's seniors said they're glad to know that, with Morgan and the other newcomers in the fold, the softball program ought to maintain its standard for a long time to come.
“It's awesome being a senior and knowing that this program's in very good hands,” Cooper said. “Dani did it last weekend. They're going to be very good for a very long time.”