Welcome back to Over The Net, the weekly interview series with players and coaches from Mizzou Volleyball that’s taking place over the next few months.
This week, I talked with Morgan Isenberg, the walk-on junior middle blocker who has become a key part of MIzzou’s lineup this season.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the Tennessee match (on Wednesday night, in which the Tigers lost 1-3). Do you think it would have changed things if the team completed the comeback at the end of the first set?
Morgan Isenberg: I honestly don’t think it would have changed much. We fought really hard in the first set, and I don’t think it ended that well. I think we grew in that moment, and it carried on to the second set. I don’t think winning or losing that set affected it, because either way we were going to fight the entire time.
What are the positives you have seen coming out of the match?
MI: The energy, definitely, and we showed a lot of grit. Our preparation for the match showed on the court because we caught up with this incredible team, showing that we’re an incredible team as well.
What is the biggest thing the team needs to work on heading into the next match?
MI: Probably just consistency, so when we get into those dips we can make our way out of them faster.
How do you think the season has gone so far?
MI: I think we’ve come a long way very fast. Everyone is really mindful of what they’re doing on and off the court, we work hard in the gym every single day, and we know what we need to do when we get in the gym and get it done. I think we’re improving at a really high level right now, and connecting on a high level too.
What are the team’s goals for the rest of the year?
MI: Just continuing to get better. In competing with these high level teams, I think every game we have an opportunity to show who we are. And I think we’re doing a great job with that right now.
Let’s talk about next match at Ole Miss. What should Mizzou fans expect heading into the match, and do you think Ole Miss will come out a little more motivated after the way your last match against them ended?
MI: Definitely. If I lost to someone, I would want to come back and beat them. But that’s not going to make us perform any less. Just because we beat them once, it doesn’t mean we’re gonna sit back, so we’re going to work hard in the gym before and during the match just to make sure that we get it done.
What would you say has been your biggest strength this season?
MI: I think I bring a lot of positivity and energy on the court. I’m also very fast, so I’m able to get to where I need to go on the court and set up a good block, and be up and available on every ball.
What are some of the things that you’re really looking to work on heading into the rest of the season?
MI: I want to continue to work on pressing on the block, just having more consistency with that. Getting up faster on my hitting and then just closing the block so that the defense is able to see where the ball is going.
Having played in the SEC for three years, what is your favorite school to visit in the conference?
MI: It’s Ole Miss. I think it’s a beautiful campus, and I’m really excited to go there this weekend, especially because it’s fall and it’s going to be so pretty. I think we’re going to a pumpkin patch, so I’m super excited about that.
It seems like the team has done a lot of fall and Halloween-themed activities. What’s been your favorite activity?
MI: I loved the pumpkin carving. Then we took the pumpkins home, and we did a pumpkin photoshoot with that.
How did how did you enjoy the shoot, and where did you go?
MI: It was so much fun. We went to Gans Creek (cross country facility) and it was beautiful. It was a perfect fall afternoon, the sun was setting, and we went by the woods and took these dancing videos and a bunch of pictures. It was a really fun time.
Who do you think was best at dancing with a pumpkin on their head?
MI: Janet (deMarrais). It’s really difficult to do because there’s this stem nailing into the top of your head, but somehow she made it look easy.
What led you to choose Mizzou?
MI: I didn’t plan on playing college volleyball at first. I had thought about it early on, did a recruiting process, and then decided not to. Then, I found out that three middles had transferred from Mizzou and there were open spots, and I was already committed to Mizzou at this point. So I reached out to the coach and was like, ‘Hey, my name is Morgan Isenberg. I’d love to show you what I got.’ And so I came in on the first day of two-a-days as my tryout. At the end of the day, he told me we’d love to have you on the team, so it was pretty cool.
Does being an walk-on make it any more difficult to do anything with the team?
MI: I don’t let it affect me at all. I work just as hard and I’m treated just like everyone else, so it doesn’t make it any difference for me.
What initially led to you coming to Mizzou before getting involved with volleyball?
MI: The academics are great. It’s close to home. I’m from Wildwood, Missouri, about an hour and 45 minutes away. I loved the campus. I don’t think I was really ready to go far away from home yet, so I thought Mizzou would be a great choice. Everyone told me it would be great to go to Mizzou, so I came here and it was a great decision.
What does it mean to you to be able to play for Mizzou?
MI: It’s absolutely incredible. The fans are amazing. Friday night, I had this little girl come up and give me this bracelet she made me, and it was so precious. It just reminded me why I do this, because there’s so many kids that look up to us.
Do you have a favorite spot on campus?
MI: I love the columns, especially before they took out all of the trees. It was so pretty in the fall, and I think even the front of Jesse Hall with the trees in the fall, and just Mizzou in the fall in general is beautiful. I love it.
Do you have a favorite thing to do or place to go in Columbia itself?
MI: Probably go to Devil’s Icebox. It’s right by my house, and there’s caves and it’s so pretty, and it kind of reminds me of home because we have so many trails like that at home. So I love it.
Lauren Forbes and Sierra Dudley both mentioned Devil’s Icebox as well. Have you hiked there with either of them?
MI: Yes. Lauren is my roommate, so we would go a lot last year. We haven’t gone this year. I went with Janet last weekend. We love it there.
Switching over to academics, what drew you to your major in business?
MI: I think it’ll create a lot of opportunities after school. I’m able to make a lot of connections right now as a student athlete, and that’s going to help in the business world. My dad’s in business, so I’ve always kind of been around it. He always talks about the money side of things. He taught economics, so I kind of grew up with all of that.
Where did he teach?
MI: He taught at a high school in downtown Chicago.
Did you ever live in the Chicago area? When did you move to Missouri?
MI: Yes, I grew up in Riverside (suburb of Chicago). I moved my freshman year of high school.
What do you miss most about Chicago?
MI: The city. I love everything about Chicago. My whole family’s there, so I have so many memories growing up, and the town I grew up in was probably the most perfect place in the United States to grow up as a kid. It was so small, and you just kind of walked and biked everywhere. There weren’t hills like there are in Missouri, so you could do that.
Do you have anything in particular that is your favorite thing about Missouri compared to Chicago?
MI: The nature. I was pretty close to the city, so it was more flat. There were trees, but it wasn’t anything like it is in Missouri, with rolling hills and all these state parks.
I live in the city, so I know what you mean. The expressway is at the end of my block.
MI: You probably have planes and cars everywhere, all the time.
Yeah. And the grey sludge (from cars running over the snow) in the winter is never fun.
MI: And it never went away. It was just consistent gray sludge.
And all the snow falls in February for some reason.
MI: I remember that one blizzard in 2011, do you know what I’m talking about?
I got stuck at my grandparents’ house for two days.
MI: I remember looking outside, we had like a glass door. Our dog jumped into the snow and disappeared, it was crazy.
What kind of dog does your family have?
MI: We have a golden retriever. That was a different dog, that was Maggie. Now we have Molly, who’s just turned six. We’re a golden retriever family.
Why are you a golden retriever family?
MI: My dad grew up with golden retrievers. My mom never really had dogs, so our first dog was a golden retriever, and she fell in love with it. I can’t imagine having any other dog.
With Halloween around the corner, do you have a favorite thing about the holiday?
MI: Pumpkin patches, probably, I love pumpkin patches.
Both of your parents were athletes at the University of Illinois. How did they feel about you going to Mizzou?
MI: They were really, really excited. I think they knew from the beginning that I didn’t really want to go to the U of I, just because I kind of wanted my own journey. I grew up going to U of I, I love it there. But Mizzou was close to home, so they were like, oh, yeah, we get to visit you all the time. They were super, super excited.
Do you feel conflicted at all when you watch Braggin’ Rights?
MI: No. I’ll go with Mizzou. My parents can do U of I, I’ll stay Mizzou.
If Mizzou wins, do you make a big deal about it with your parents?
MI: The thing is, they both love Mizzou about as much as they love the University of Illinois even though it’s their alma mater. Both of their kids go here. My brother is a freshman right now, and all my cousins go here. We’re a big Mizzou family.
As we wrap the interview up, is there anything you want to say to the fans?
MI: Keep supporting us just like you are. You’re doing a great job and we’re so happy to have you at every single game, It helps so much seeing that we have so many people supporting us, and it makes us want to win for you guys.