It wasn’t too far into her freshman season of soccer at Presbyterian College when Morgan Hutchison hit a wall, but the former McMinn County High School standout did not let it stop her.

She has come quite a long way since those early struggles. And after a breakout junior season last year, in which she set a record in points for the Blue Hose’s NCAA Division I era, Hutchison has been selected as one of the two team captains for her senior 2020 campaign at the school in Clinton, South Carolina.

With that selection, voted on by her teammates, Hutchison will be a leader on the soccer field for Presbyterian. And it’s a role she intends to take to new heights both on and off the pitch.

“It’s definitely an honor, especially after the last four years working toward this and gaining the respect from my teammates, to be given this opportunity and have the responsibility that comes along with it,” said Hutchison in an interview with The Daily Post-Athenian. “Definitely a big thing I’m going to work toward is getting that family mentality as a team. As a captain you have the coin toss and wearing the captain’s band, but I want to take it to a new level of creating a family mentality that all of us are in this together and giving them the confidence and mindset to make us a better team and have a good year.”

Like all athletes who continue their careers at the college level, Hutchison had displayed considerable talent and experienced a high degree of success in high school. In 2016, her senior year at McMinn, Hutchison had led the Lady Cherokees to the program’s first-ever TSSAA state tournament appearance. Hutchison notched 38 goals that season, which was a single-season program record at the time.

And in the summer just before heading off to college, Hutchison had helped her FC Alliance club team to a state championship.

But NCAA Division I soccer was an entirely different level from either high school or club soccer — one that gave Hutchison a rude awakening. While she had played in all 16 games her freshman season at PC, she had only started in four of them and didn’t score any goals.

“It’s just a whole different level, especially from high school,” Hutchison said. “I grew up with all those girls and I knew them, so I could talk to one of my friends and be like, ‘Oh, this is what we need to change.’ But when you go to college, it’s a whole new set of girls, and being able to come together in such a short amount of time from preseason to your first game, and the level you have to compete at is so much different.”

But Hutchison didn’t stay discouraged for long and instead became determined.

“I think it was my mentality going into college,” Hutchison said. “My confidence was very low after the first few games. I was like, ‘This is a whole new level,’ and I realized that I worked too hard for this, to just settle with who I was as a player. And so I changed my mentality. My confidence grew a lot, and I took a lot of risks last year on the field and off the field. I’m training myself, and I just didn’t want to settle with being good enough. I wanted to be at a next level and continue to raise my bar. And so I just put all I could into it and just kept working.”

The first difference, of several, Hutchison named between high school and college soccer was the level of fitness required — at a higher level than she had ever been even during a stellar high school career.

“I never had a struggle with fitness until I went to college,” Hutchison said. “And the game is just so much faster. The girls are stronger, you have to be mentally prepared the whole time. If you have a mental lapse, something can happen, like the other team can score. And you just have to be checked in the whole time. During high school you could kind of check out a few times and get it back, but you just have to be checked in mentally and physically the whole game (in college).”

Hutchison displayed some improvement her sophomore season, scoring four goals including two game winners, starting seven of the team’s 16 games and logging over 100 more minutes than she did as a freshman.

But it was in 2019, Hutchison’s junior year, that it all really came together for the former Lady Cherokee — and that breakout came after an offseason where she took her fitness training and fundamental work to an entirely different level. Hutchison did that training by herself, not even playing on a Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) team that offseason.

“Before my sophomore year, I would run every other day, I would work out some, but my junior year I made a complete plan, and I couldn’t skip a day,” Hutchison said. “I held myself accountable for each day. Fitness was a big thing I focused on, and I think with my fitness going up to a next level, it really helped me and my game. And just doing shooting drills and everything during the summer and just pushing myself as far as I could go each day.”

And on the field, Hutchison made it a point to play with some more aggression than she had before.

“So I know on the field a lot, especially as a forward, sometimes you have to take risks, whether to pass the ball or just take a shot that may or may not go in,” Hutchison said. “I know our team sometimes would sit back a lot, and just going for it and pushing forward created a lot of chances and goals for us. And I just think that’s a big thing, not being scared to fail. I’ve had a huge fear of failure in the past and of letting others down. And just getting past that and knowing that you put your all into it, something will eventually come out of it.”

All that work and change in mentality paid off for Hutchison. She tallied up seven goals and four assists in 2019, which translates to 18 points – two points for a goal and one point for an assist. That points total is the highest in a single season by any women’s soccer player at Presbyterian since it started competing at the Division I level in 2007. Hutchison logged 1,121 minutes, scored three game winners, placed nearly half her shots on goal and earned Big South All-Conference Second Team honors for 2019.

Hutchison’s goal total from her junior season is second in PC’s D1 history for a single season, and her career goals total of 11 stands at third in the program’s D1 record book. Presbyterian’s current D1 career goals mark is 16, a mark that could be in reach for Hutchison to surpass when her senior season and career are done. But that’s just one goal for the Lady Tribe legend this fall.

“For sure, I want to break the record for the goals in a season,” Hutchison said. “And I especially want to be a leader. I know I’m the captain, so my goal is to help everyone else become a better version of themselves on and off the field. And so that’s my goals personally.”

Presbyterian head coach Brian Purcell made it clear that Hutchison’s hard work was the difference at a level in which every player has real ability.

“Most college players, Morgan especially, come into college with a good bit of talent,” Purcell said in an email to The Daily Post-Athenian. “What separates the average college players from those that stand out are the ones who put in the work to succeed. Between her sophomore and junior years, Morgan really embraced this and set new standards for herself in regards to her work habits. The results were obvious and impressive as she was named to the All-Conference team and has now been selected as a captain by her teammates. It continues to be an honor for me to coach Morgan and to see her grow as a player and as a person.”

And for the Blue Hose as a whole, 2019 saw it reach the Big South Conference tournament for the first time since 2013. PC, as the No. 7 seed, lost a hard-fought conference quarterfinals match 3-2 in double overtime to the tournament’s No. 2 seed Campbell.

Getting past that round and competing for a conference championship is an aim Hutchison and the Blue Hose have in mind for 2020.

“I think a big goal we have is especially to win conference, but make it to the conference final,” Hutchison said. “Last year we had a really good game in the quarterfinals, and we ended up losing in overtime. And so I think our confidence has grown a lot since then to know that we’re good enough to push it all the way to the finals. And so I think that’s a huge goal.”

And Hutchison has continued to put in the work herself leading up to the fall – even stepping it up some more.

“Last year I focused on fitness a lot, and this summer I’ve done about the same thing,” Hutchison said. “It’s been different because we’ve had such a longer break (due to COVID-19), so keeping yourself motivated every day has been more hard. But I’ve been able to do it, and I’ve incorporated a lot more drills and my coach has sent me a lot of drills to work on that are personally for me. And I’ve been more hard on myself, like if I mess up a drill, I have to do fitness, so I’ve incorporated both of those into it daily.”

Hutchison breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Big South Conference announced that it would play sports this fall. Competition for teams in that conference will begin Sept. 3, which canceled six games the Blue Hose had scheduled. Presbyterian’s first match is Sept. 6 at home against Mercer.

“I’ve been very stressed about it this summer, and so just to know that I can have my senior season, even though some games got canceled and that’s really stressful,” Hutchison said. “But knowing that I can at least have conference and a few games before that is very relieving.”

But with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing and an ever-developing occurrence, Hutchison said she “100%” still feels some remaining anxiety over when the season can happen, or how much of it.

“It’s really hard to keep your mentality in check, knowing that it can just end abruptly,” Hutchison said. “It’s very stressful, but I’m trying to look at the positives and work toward what we do have right now, which is good.”

Hutchison is wrapping up a degree in early childhood education, although she has been re-evaluating her career prospects.

“I’ve been changing my mind a lot, and I want to do something now like one-on-one with kids,” Hutchison said. “Or I want to start coaching or sports management or something. So my career path has changed kind of a lot the past couple weeks.”

Whatever path she decides to follow, she is pretty sure soccer will be a part of it – whether playing it or coaching it or both.

“This summer I’ve kind of looked into some programs overseas, but I haven’t really talked to my coaches about it,” Hutchison said. “I can’t really see my career ending already after this season, so if there’s a possibility of me being able to play somewhere else, whether it’s overseas or in the States, then that’s what I really want. But we’ll just see after talking with my coaches some what I’m able to do.”

Hutchison has been conducting some one-on-one instruction this summer and doing private session in Athens, which is the only step she’s taken toward a coaching career so far.

“Just wherever I end up I guess, looking into a club or even a local college as a grad assistant, maybe,” Hutchison said. “So we’ll see what opportunities I’m given or where I end up.”

Hutchison still keeps up with the Lady Cherokees when she can, particularly on Twitter during a big match and by asking a few former teammates who were still on the team after she graduated.

And she has some high expectations for the news she hears from McMinn this fall.

“Well, I really want them to make it to state again,” Hutchison said. “I know that’s a big step for any team that goes through McMinn to make it that far. I know they’ve been working hard the last couple of years, and I think the coaching staff they have there is great right now. And I just want them to push themselves to go as far as they can. Because at the beginning of the year, you never know how far you can go. But once you start getting into it, I think they can get that groove and make it to state — or win the districts at first and then just keep going.”

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