The trend of top local hoops prospects leaving the NHIAA for prep school continues. Morgan Church emerged as one of the best players in the state last winter, carrying her Kearsarge team to the Division II title game. The 5-foot-7 combo-guard led her team in nearly every offensive category and was also their best defender. Church led the Cougars to upset playoff wins over Coe-Brown in the quarterfinals and Windham in the semis.
Unfortunately, with less than 2 minutes left in the semi-finals vs. Windham, Church suffered a torn ACL. She had to watch from the sidelines as her teammates lost to Souhegan in the finals 53-27, and then had surgery to repair her knee in April.
Now Church is transferring from Kearsarge to nearby Proctor Academy, a prep school which competes in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC). She will remain in the Class of 2014 for now, but could reclassify to 2015 down the road.
"My decision to go to Proctor had its hard moments" Church told the NH Notebook. "Kearsarge was always my community and was a place that I really felt comfortable and like a home to me, with all our school spirit and support with all the students, which really came through this past basketball season."
Many people think these kids are all leaving the NHIAA for prep school for strictly basketball reasons, but often times academics is just as big of a factor.
"I look at Proctor as the better choice for me academically and its really going to help for my future, especially from a college standpoint" said Church. "There is just so much more opportunity for me at Proctor that I didn't want to pass up. I think with my injury this past season, my grades slipped, and unfortunately I've never been one to have good organization skills, and that's where I think Proctor can step in and help where Kearsarge couldn't. I think Proctor will help me reach my full academic potential which I wasn't getting at Kearsarge, and is something that I really want and as I'm getting older, I'm now starting to see the importance of it and the value it has for my future and for me as an individual. Any private school could do that for me I think, because of the small classes and the constant availability of the teachers, but lucky for me Proctor is about 10 minutes down the road haha. More than that though, after really checking into it, the Proctor lifestyle is something that I think will really suit me as a student."
The transfer also makes sense for Church from a basketball perspective.
"Losing a whole AAU season can kind of hurt when it comes to looking to play college ball which I hope to do" Church continued. "And Proctor gives me the opportunity to take a PG year, or just an extra year if I want to do it."
Recovering from a torn ACL is a long, difficult process. But it is an injury that kids have come back from in the past and over time been able to return to form. Melissa Frase, the former Kennett High star suffered the same injury during the summer before her senior year. She was able to return to the court halfway through the season and in her second game back she dropped 35 points on Portsmouth. Frase did a PG year at the New Hampton School last winter, and now enters her freshman year at UMass-Lowell on a basketball scholarship. So while it is a painful injury with a long recovery process it is possible to make it back and play at the next level.
"My surgery went really well!" Church said. "I used a hamstring graft and my surgeon did a really good job of locking that thing in there so I could have a really good recovery, which I've been having. There have been some up and down moments, but I just kept working through them. I intend to start doing some light jogging after Labor Day and I've already gotten back in the gym (for some lighter stuff of course).
It is definitely important in the recovery process to have a good doctor and to keep a positive attitude, and luckily for Church she has both.
"I'm right on track with my recovery and now that I've moved onto working on agility and strength, I intend to make some real progress in the next few months so I can be ready for the winter season" said Church. "It'll be rough, but this process is certainly a marathon, not a sprint! I think that as unfortunate as this injury was, it gave me a nice mental break from the game and allowed me to now be fully focused and ready to come back better than ever! Just taking it one day at a time!"
Church was playing the best basketball of her young career at the time of her injury in March. She was a leader on the court and off for Kearsarge. She was constantly driving the ball to the basket, keeping the pressure on the defense. She made good decisions with the ball, scoring inside or kicking it to the open man if the defense collapsed. She rebounded she defended, and Church also developed a dangerous shot from the outside as well as from the mid-range area. If she can make a successful recovery from her knee injury there's no question she is a potential scholarship player.
"I still can't believe she didn't make the all-state team last year" said one rival Division II coach. "I actually voted for her for the 1st team."
Would Kearsarge have beaten Souhegan in the finals last year if Church had played? Probably not. But it would have been a MUCH different basketball game if she was in there, no question about it.
"Watching that championship game was extremely hard!" said Church, who started for Kearsarge as a freshman and as a sophomore. "I'm happy that I was able to play in the semi-final game and I just hope that I was able to play a big part in getting the team to that championship game. But I do remember sitting in the locker room, watching the girls do their pregame rituals with everyone and I couldn't help but feel kind of sad, really. We all had been preparing to make it to that final game and everyone worked extremely hard and stepped up when no one thought we would get there. It was something we all talked about for the whole season and really wanted to accomplish. So, to watch it all happening in front of me, knowing that something I've always wanted to do since I was a mini Kearsarge fan at the age of 8, was just passing in front of me and was something I could no longer be a part of, was a hard thing to swallow."
Church handled a very difficult situation with tremendous class and maturity.
"After feeling sorry for myself in the locker room, I completely flipped my perspective and made sure that I was there for my teammates because I knew that's how I could still be a part of that game" Church went on. "If I couldn't help by being our #1 player, I was certainly going to be the #1 fan! Not to brag, but I did have some pretty sweet decorated Blue & Gold crutches that I was very proud of! But, I wish I could've been out there to help in all the ways that I did as an actual player. I was watching from the sidelines just seeing all the things that I new wouldn't be happening if I could just go out there and play my game, but everything happens for a reason, and I took that game as just another learning experience. I just tried to help keep the girls focused and playing hard even at the most discouraging moments, to the very last second, and then we would still have the respect we earned by getting there, that I hope we still have.
Not only would that game have gone differently if Church was in there, but everyone in attendance would have liked to see her match up with Souhegan star point guard Jane White.
"It is really tough because I worked really hard for that game for a really long time, and I felt ready to pop and show everyone what I was truly capable of. And come on, who wouldn't be upset about not being able to test yourself against one of the best players in all of NH? THAT was a big disappointment in itself!"
Church definitely has a great attitude, regarding her injury as well as basketball in general and academics. We wish her the best of luck as she continues her recovery process and look forward to seeing her back on the court soon, in a Proctor Uniform.
"I'm really excited to start Proctor in the fall and see what my future holds in the life of a private school kid!" Church concluded.