CANBY - Entering her third season as a starter for the Canby Lancers, Morgan Merritt has become a critical piece to the Lancers' puzzle.
As a point guard, Merritt controls the floor, offensively, leading her team in both scoring and assists.
In her fist 12 games, Merritt has scored 169 points, averaging 14.1 points per game. She has 79 assists for an average of 6.6.
But Merritt's contributions don't stop there. She also dominates on defense, contributing an average of 3.6 steals per game.
"I can tell I have grown throughout my entire basketball career," Merritt said. "I believe the skills you learn on the court play out in your daily life. I've learned to be both a follower and a leader."
On Tuesday against Dawson-Boyd, Merritt scored a season-high 26 points, going 5-for-7 from the 3-point line.
Despite her hot-hand, she unselfishly supported her teammates, assisting nine shots en route to a 66-50 victory. Merritt also led the Lancers with four steals, as she topped Canby in four different statistical categories.
"Morgan has turned into our team leader this year, developing and taking it upon herself to fit that role," Lancers head coach Kevin Hansen said. "She is a great scorer, but also does a lot of things to involve people when she is on offense."
When given the choice, Merritt prefers to set up others over creating her own shot.
"I am a pass-first guard," Merritt said. "I often am told I need to shoot more, but I like seeing other people be successful."
"She would rather have someone else score than herself," Hansen said. "She is leading by example on the court and she makes good choices to not turn the ball over and to take good shots."
Adjusting to a young roster, the Lancers have grown as a team and found their rhythm on the court.
"We all know our roles and accept them," Merritt said. "When we work together, we can make things happen."
Even with four years of varsity experience, Merritt still finds herself nervous before every game.
"I get extremely nervous before games," Merritt said. "But the second the ball goes up, it all rushes out and adrenaline takes over."
Merritt began her basketball career in fourth grade, following the trend of her classmates.
"Everyone went out back then," said Merritt. "But I liked playing sports and basketball was my thing from the beginning."
As a freshman, Merritt saw her first time on the Lancers' varsity squad. As a talented young player, she played a supporting role on the team, helping Canby reach the section finals in 2011.
Entering her sophomore year, Merritt became a starter for the first time only to meet tragedy early in the season. After recovering from bronchitis, she debuted at point guard in a game against Lincoln HI.
Just 2 minutes after stepping onto the floor, Merritt attempted to steal the ball on an inbound pass when she collided with another player. The result of the impact on her collarbone was enough to severely break the bone.
"When it happened, I cried more because I knew I was out, not because of the pain," Merritt said.
Despite the setback, Merritt didn't let her injury define her season.
"I worked really hard to get back into the season and I convinced my doctor to let me play in the playoffs," said Merritt. "It taught me how to appreciate the game and to be glad I am healthy."
After the Lancers were abruptly eliminated from the playoffs last season, Merritt strives to lead Canby on a postseason run this year.
"Last year, we left the playoffs before we were supposed to," Merritt said. "This year, I want to stay in the postseason longer than we are supposed to."
As Merritt continued to improve throughout her high school career, she drew attention from college coaches on the recruiting trail.
"I chose to play basketball at the University of Sioux Falls because I absolutely fell in love with the school and the coaches," Merritt said.
She signed a letter of intent in December 2013 to continue her academic and basketball careers at USF this fall.