Morgan Shirley knows a good thing when she sees it.
And the Andover High sophomore saw it, or really experienced it, last year as a freshman for the Sanford School, the Delaware state champion girls basketball team. It was Sanford’s fourth state title in 10 years.
Shirley and her family moved to Andover last summer from Hockessin, Delaware.
About the halfway mark this winter, she was seeing and experiencing similar traits with the Golden Warriors.
“I started to see the same patterns in Andover, of players wanting the same goal, and everybody accepting their roles,” said the 15-year-old Shirley. “Even after our slow start (4-3), the desire was incredible. I never predicted it, but it felt like it did back in Delaware last year.”
Shirley’s dad accepted a job with Three Step Sports in Wilmington, and she admitted she wasn’t thrilled about the move.
“I loved the Sanford School and my friends,” said Shirley. “I wasn’t happy.”
But the move happened, which included mom (Amy), dad (Joe), 12-year-old sister (Jordan) and 9-year-old brother (Joe Jr.).
Shirley started acclimating herself by playing soccer, assigned to the junior varsity team.
“It really helped acclimating to the environment,” Shirley noted. “Sports always connects me, in a way, to others and developing friendships.”
At school she ran into the Andover High girls’ basketball coach/math teacher Alan Hibino, who had heard about a new “state champ” moving into town. He asked her about getting some fall minutes when possible. There were also some open gyms where girls would be shooting around playing half-court games.
“Shea Krekorian (a captain) came up to me a few days before tryouts during open gym and said, ‘You got this. You’ll make the team,’ “ recalled Shirley. “I can’t tell you what that meant for me. It just gave me confidence.”
The rest was history. Shirley started out near the back end of the second team. By the end of the season, she was the first off the bench.
“What us coaches found out early was that Morgan was super intelligent,” said Hibino. “She could process new sets and schemes. She knew where all five players were supposed to be. With most young players their heads are spinning. It was a great example of a player being ready for their opportunity.”
Hibino recalled a moment in the second half against Chelmsford in the Division 1 North semis.
“(Assistant coach) Connor Arnold turned to me and said ‘We have to leave her in. She’s playing too well,’” said Hibino. “She hadn’t scored, but we had a few players in foul trouble and she was getting a lot of key rebounds. The game was part football and part rugby, which was no problem for Morgan.”
Shirley said, for her, it started with a vote of confidence from a senior and her winter season took off.
“What a special team we have here at Andover,” said Shirley. “I got to experience the rivalries with Central Catholic and North Andover. We just had a feeling when the state tournament started, before every game, that we weren’t losing.”