CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Strong leadership is a characteristic often coursing through a championship-level team and now, senior Morgan Carlson is prepared to fill the role as the lone senior of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi volleyball.
Carlson's journey to the top has been long and winding. The Reno, Nev., native came to the Island as a freshman, but played sparingly as an underclassmen. During her first two seasons, the right side appeared in just 21 matches, registering 40 kills.
All that changed in the 2015 run to the Southland Conference Championship. A junior, Carlson finally had her chance to break into the lineup. It was a chance she ensured did not slip away.
"It was really fun," Carlson said of her breakout year. "It was about midway through the season when I finally got a chance to play and the seniors really helped me. I was really good friends with them and they just kind of said 'hop on my back, you're going to play this year so get it together.' It was really fun and I really pulled out of my shell. Finally I had the opportunity to step up and I took it."
Carlson finished the 2015 campaign second on the team in kills. Playing opposite of one of the best attackers in program history, Carlson floored 301 balls over 33 matches providing a pivotal second option on the offensive end. The 301 kills were over seven times as many as she accumulated in her first two seasons combined.
Heading into 2016, Carlson is the leading returner in kills. Perhaps more importantly, she's also the leader in the locker room for the Islanders. It's another new challenge for Carlson, but one she's taken a liking to.
"I love it," said the lone senior. "After Tony Graystone left, everyone kind of looked at me immediately. Me being a junior, I had four seniors in front of me who really did everything so it was hard. All the sudden, everyone was looking at me like 'what do we do?' It was hard to step up to the challenge, but I have a great relationship with everyone on the team so I was able to be open and honest with everyone about what the expectations are and they just followed."
Confident she's now grown into a strong leader, Carlson admitted it wasn't something that always came naturally to her.
"I had to learn," she said. "I had some great leaders in front of me and I think I just take bits and pieces of the past three years of leadership that I've seen and kind of make my own rules and guidelines of how I want to lead the team."
Early in preseason camp, a major focal point has been leaving the success of last season in 2015. It's no secret the Islanders are aiming to repeat that level of success and have eyes on a second Southland Conference title, but Carlson is first focused on ensuring the work ethic holds steady or even improves over last season.
"I think it's all about coming in here and working just as hard as last year," said Carlson. "We have great teams in this conference and they haven't lost as many players as we have. We lost two of our starting outside hitters and we have to replace those. That's an obvious position to replace and a tough one to replace. I think we have to work even harder than last year to keep our position in the conference."
The Islanders know repeating won't be an easy task. No team has captured back-to-back Southland Championships since Central Arkansas in 2009-10. During that stretch, five different schools have won at least a share of the title.
On August 26, the Islanders will step back onto the court to open the 2016 season with Carlson poised and ready to lead the Blue and Green back to top of the Southland Conference.