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Davis, California

Friday, May 17, 2024

UC Davis’ Morgan Bertsch drafted to WNBA

Bertsch capitalizes on historic season, becomes first Aggie drafted to WNBA

The story begins with a Santa Rosa High School basketball player back in 2014, who, even at 6 foot 4 inches, was flying under the radar of most college scouts. She’s discovered, more or less on accident, by UC Davis Head Coach Jennifer Gross and is offered a division one scholarship. But there’s a catch: she wants to run track too. So she competes in the high jump for three seasons. She also wants to major in biomedical engineering — no problem.

“You do you,” she said.

Five years later, the senior UC Davis women’s basketball forward Morgan Bertsch is continuing to engineer a path of her own. On Thursday, she was selected 29th overall by the Dallas Wings in the 2019 WNBA draft, becoming one of 36 women in the world to be chosen to play at the sport’s highest level.

“I could sit here and tell you that of course I knew this was going to be what happened, but I think it was at the start of this year I kind of set [the WNBA] as a possibility for myself and kind of as a little goal,” Bertsch said. “I’m not going to say it’s something that I’ve been striving for forever […] It still blows my mind. It doesn’t really seem real that it actually happened.”

There’s a thread of relatability in Bertsch’s voice, that encapsulates the dream all athletes have but only rarely actualize. Thursday’s WNBA draft marks the first time ever that a player from the UC Davis women’s program has realized that dream. But really it should come as no surprise, over the past five years Bertsch has had many ‘firsts.’

In November, she surpassed the Aggie great Carol Rische to become the all-time leading basketball scorer in women’s program history. In December, she surpassed the men’s mark. Now, with 2,422 career points, Bertsch stands alone as the single greatest basketball scorer in UC Davis history.

“The second she arrived on campus and started practicing and we saw the efficiency that she played with — we knew she was going to be special,” Gross said.

In her first year, she scored 13.9 points per game at a 58.2 percent shooting clip and continued to dominate the low post for the Aggies well into her third season. But Gross and Bertsch still weren’t satisfied.

“We saw the vision of her playing the three, playing a stretch four,” Gross said. “This year, as a staff we basically said, ‘She’s pretty good down there [playing in the post],’ and Matt Klemen works with the guards and we said, ‘Alright, Matt, you’re gonna take her every day and basically do the pre-practice guard workout and start to develop those skills.’ We saw that whole skill set start to evolve.”

And soon the staff had unlocked an entirely new part of the same beast. Bertsch began launching threes.

In her first three seasons, Bertsch only attempted a combined 11 three-pointers and made just four. During her final season, the senior shot 48 and made 23. Her near 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc immediately made Bertsch reach that stretch Gross and the coaching staff dreamed of and helped catapult the Aggies to a Big West conference title.

With the 6-foot-4-inch forward now a threat from the perimeter, opposing defenses were stretched thin. Leave her open from deep, and she stripes a three. Take away the outside shot and force her into the paint. Let her work one-on-one, and she’s getting a bucket. Double team her in the low post to take away the one-on-one game, and she’s dishing the ball back out to one of her sharpshooting teammates for an open shot.

For senior backcourt duo Karly and Kourtney Eaton, Bertsch’s ability to spread the floor and expand the offense helped their games grow, too. The pair shot 43 percent and 44.5 percent from deep, respectively.

“I knew I’d be able to get outside shots because of the threat Morgan creates inside,” Kourtney said. “So I worked all year at being consistent and feeling really confident, so I could knock down shots for my team. I wanted to score more this year, so I knew I needed to shoot a good percentage from three to do that. I think it was important because it created an outside threat and created more space for Morgan to go to work.”

How to beat the UC Davis women’s basketball team quickly became a question void of answer. Teams in the Big West Conference are still scratching their heads over that one, because they certainly didn’t. The Aggies dominated the conference for a third straight season, finishing with a 15-1 record in the Big West and 25-7 overall. But with the presence of a few veteran seniors, the Aggies were eyeing the tournament title from the start.

“We had a new core and, as expected, it took a month or two to really gel and play well together,” Karley said. “After everyone settled into their role and utilized our individual strengths, we really came together and became a great team.”

UC Davis won the Big West Tournament for the second time in program history and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. For many of the elder Aggies, the victory was the culmination of four plus years of hard work. For Bertsch, it was another rung on the ladder toward greatness.

“She not only talks about wanting to be great, but she puts the work into that,” Gross said. “And the exciting thing is she still has an incredibly high ceiling; we feel like she can continue to get better and better and that’s why the future is so exciting for her.”

The future is equally exciting for the Aggies. Bertsch will graduate from Davis in June, but the message she sends to young hoopers, and the legacy she leaves within this program and at this university will extend far beyond her days at The Pavilion.

“I had set some goals for myself at the start of the season, and to be honest, I think I achieved every one of them,” Bertsch said.

Goals of being the best scorer in program history? Ask the unscouted senior from Santa Rosa High School, the redshirt freshman. Goals of joining the WNBA? Ask the biomedical engineer and UC Davis high jump record holder.

Her new goal, she admits, is adjusting to her role in the WNBA. How she fits within the Wings scheme is still unknown to her, but anyone who knows Bertsch knows she’ll make it work —she’ll make the adjustment.

When she was asked about leaving Northern California for the first time and moving to Texas, Bertsch answered, “Just another adjustment.”

Written by: Carson Parodi — sports@theaggie.org


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