Long before Morgan Bergren starred for the University of Kentucky's volleyball team, another sporting interest drew her to the Bluegrass State. She rode horses competitively, regularly coming to shows at the Kentucky Horse Park and elsewhere.
She took her first lessons around the age of 5 and began riding in Kentucky about four years later. But her link to horses began much earlier.
"My mom rode in the Canadian nationals when she was pregnant with me," Bergren said with a smile Monday.
Whether the prenatal experience imprinted horses into her psyche or by pure coincidence, Bergren became an avid rider. She rode in three shows this summer. She shares a Pinto Arabian with her mother and sister. His name is Major Colors of Fire, but he goes by "Junior."
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"He was a little brat," said Bergren, still smiling. "Now, he's grown up. He's more fun to ride."
Bergren has fallen off a horse "two or three times." No serious damage was done. So far, UK volleyball coach Craig Skinner has not objected to his star player's riding interest, she said.
And living in Kentucky has broadened that interest. A native of Muncie, Ind., she had not seen a horse race until she came to UK. "We'll take recruits to a horse farm," she said. "I'm always asking to tag along."
Bergren's professional goals do not involve horses. She aspires to be a health and physical education teacher (her mother's family has several educators and school administrators).
But, first things first, she hopes to continue helping Kentucky become noted for volleyball. UK has been selected to host an NCAA Tournament regional in December for the third time in five years.
"People recognize Kentucky all the way into California ... ," Skinner said. "Our name is synonymous with some of the best programs in the country."
Southeastern Conference coaches voted Bergren to their preseason all-league team. She also was among 36 players who made up the U.S. Collegiate National Team that trained in New Orleans in June. The latter followed her playing on the U.S. National Team that competed in China last summer.
When asked what made Bergren so good, Skinner noted her passion for the game and consistent desire to improve. He also described her as something of a hybrid: a standout setter who's also lethal with a kill shot. It sounded like a basketball point guard (say, John Wall) with the above-the-rim presence of an Anthony Davis.
"When she jumps to set, blockers have to honor her and acknowledge what she's doing," Skinner said. "Because she can turn and throw it down and score the ball on her own. And there are very few setters who can kill the ball at the rate she does."
In the 2014 season, Bergren had 1,291 assists, the second most in UK program history. She also averaged 14.25 kills, the most by a UK player since 2009.
"Those kind of numbers are very rare for the setting position," Skinner said.
In Kentucky's final competition last season, Bergren was 10-for-10 in kill-shot opportunities.
"That's awesome," teammate Anni Thompson said. "First of all, because she's a setter. That's unheard of."
Bergren at the net draws the attention of blockers, thus freeing up space for kills by hitters.
Fans can see for themselves on Tuesday when Kentucky will hold an open practice from 10 a.m. until noon in Memorial Coliseum. The team opens the season Aug. 28 in a home match against Michigan State.