Morgan O’Brien makes US national team
April 16, 2018
nIf you asked freshman Morgan O’Brien about her volleyball career five years ago, the answer would have been vague.
The defensive specialist has been a cornerstone defensive presence for Illinois after just one season with the team. But O’Brien’s biggest athletic success came unexpectedly this spring, well after the regular season had concluded.
O’Brien was one of three Illini who tried out for the U.S. National Team back in early March. Junior Jordyn Poulter, freshman Megan Cooney and head coach Chris Tamas also made the journey to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The three-day tryout included players from schools across the NCAA.
O’Brien approached the opportunity hoping to gain experience. She said she had no idea she would be one of 24 players selected to the team.
“I wasn’t really thinking that I would make the team,” O’Brien said. “Just that this will be fun and really cool to get to play with other people for a weekend.”
According to O’Brien, the initial tryout went well, but she had to wait a month before finding out exactly how well she did.
“We came back and I kind of forgot about it,” O’Brien said. “Then they emailed me one day saying, ‘We selected you for this, would you want to do it?’”
O’Brien began normal spring workouts with the rest of her teammates, but her competition will continue into the summer, as the national team’s season runs from June 22 to July 1.
The pool of 24 players will eventually split into two teams of 12 that compete in the remainder of summer matches.
For O’Brien, her transformation into a Division I athlete has been a process. According to the libero, making the U.S. National Team wouldn’t have been a thought for her five years ago when she tried out for the Libertyville High School volleyball team in Libertyville, Illinois. She said she had just started thinking about the possibility of playing in college someday — since then, she has continued to surprise herself with her performance.
“I definitely expected just to do it for the experience, because I was brand new to the team last year, so I’m thinking I’m just going to wanna work up to it,” O’Brien said. “When I entered it, I was going in thinking this will be a good experience.”
The experience opened new doors for the U of I freshman on the court and also on a personal level.
O’Brien said that she and her teammates were able to branch out and enjoy more than just volleyball during their tryout.
“Being at the dorms where all of the (athletes) stay and eating at the cafeterias were great because all of the food was so good,” O’Brien said. “It was also really pretty because the entire Olympic Center is surrounded by mountains.”
Since only three Illini made the journey to Colorado in March, there was plenty of time for O’Brien to connect with players from across the country.
“There were a lot of people; not really anyone I knew on a talking basis, but definitely people I knew of,” O’Brien said. “I think a lot of people went into it without teammates there, so everyone needs or wants someone to talk to. I feel like it will be fun to meet a lot of these people, and if my teammates were there, I feel like I would stick with them and not really get to know a lot of other people.”
At the end of the day, O’Brien hopes the summer campaign will help her grow as an athlete. Although the experience presents challenges, O’Brien said she is eager to sharpen her skills alongside some of the country’s best volleyball players.
“I think I learned a lot by playing with so many different people already,” O’Brien said. “Everyone is coached by a different coach and comes in with a different perspective, so it’s fun to see how other people play.”