By CONOR NICHOLL
Cunningham junior Morgan Meyers’ family has long loved basketball. Her dad, Eric, served an official for 17 seasons and is in his 11th year guiding the Wildcat girls. Morgan’s uncle is legendary Wichita Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel.
Morgan has two older sisters, Bayleigh and Mikaela, the latter whom enjoyed a decorated multi-sport career and played college basketball at Cloud County. The duo pushed Morgan on the family backyard hoop.
“I wanted to be like them,” she said.
Since second grade, Morgan has always looked to improve in basketball, her favorite sport. She watched her sisters and many standouts, including Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who sadly passed away in a helicopter crash last Sunday.
“I have really been wanting to do everything all these big-time players have been doing,” she said. “And so I started at a young age with dribbling, and I knew as me being a smaller guard I would have to be able to dribble because maybe that would be my role in many games.”
Morgan enjoyed a strong freshman season. She averaged around 14 points a contest and fulfilled a longtime dream when Cunningham, her dad’s alma mater, reached the girls’ state tournament for the first time since 1988. The Wildcats went 24-2 and took third in Class 1A, Division II.
Last year, though, Morgan scored around the same number of points. Cunningham took double-digit losses to end the season versus Coldwater-South Central and Montezuma-South Gray, a pair of state qualifiers. Coach Meyers said Morgan was “among those” who didn’t shoot well at year’s end.
“I didn’t have very much confidence in myself especially after sophomore year,” she said. “I thought I didn’t play as good as I did freshman year, so I was down on myself.”
After the disappointing end to basketball last spring, the 5-foot-6 Meyers elected to not do track. Last summer, she decided to play AAU for Ohlde Elite.
She met with Craig Nicholson, her coach for Ohlde and a personal trainer for many top girls’ basketball players in the Wichita area the last several years.
The move has paved the way for a point per minute average in 2019-20.
Through the first 11 contests, Meyers played 20 minutes a game with 20.1 points, 4.5 assists and 3.7 steals. Meyers is not shooting more often compared to last year. However, she is shooting more efficiently at 54 percent.
She has drawn interest from Division II programs Missouri Western and Washburn. Meyers is part of a select group of elite players that have averaged 20 points a contest this year that includes Central Plains senior Emily Ryan, Cheney junior Kylie Scheer, Topeka freshman Kiki Smith, Plainville’s Aubree Dewey, and Beloit/St. John’s-Tipton junior Lauryn Dubbert.
Ryan has signed with Iowa State, Scheer has committed to Emporia and Dewey to Washburn. Smith leads Topeka, ranked No. 1 in 6A. Dubbert has 877 career points in two-plus seasons.
Cunningham, which started the season eighth in Class 1A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, is up to fourth this week. The Wildcats, which play in the 16th annual 54 Classic this week, have opened 13-0 behind a strong seven-player rotation and highly efficient offense.
“She’s got a personal trainer that’s really given her some things that show up in games that she didn’t do that I honestly couldn’t teach her, and so she works at it,” coach Meyers said.
Through the first 11 contests, Cunningham averaged 1.05 points per possession and had an average score of 55-25. Last year, Cunningham was happy to have games when it tallied one point a possession. As well, Cunningham has played at a faster pace compared to 2018-19 yet produced fewer turnovers at just 11.6 a contest.
Coach Meyers, a Rule 10 coach and bank president in Cunningham, believes he has seven starters. In addition to Morgan and DeWeese (7.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 steals), Cunningham features junior Alayna McGuire, a starter most of her career. She delivers 4.8 points and 2.2 steals a game.
Junior Mackenzie Wright is at nine points a contest, and sophomore Madie McGuire averages seven points a game. Junior Maddison Panek (3.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 steals) has started in the past. Senior Hunter McGuire played in five of the first 11 games as she recovered from an injury to her kneecap. The third senior is reserve Jessamy Stalcup. Cunningham collectively shoots 44 percent from the field.
In January, Cunningham has continued its success, notably with a 48-35 victory versus three-loss Pretty Prairie on Jan. 18. This week, Cunningham defeated South Barber, 66-28, in the first round of the 54 Classic.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Cunningham defeated Medicine Lodge, 65-31 behind 13 points and 12 assists from Meyers. In the other semifinal, Pretty Prairie pulled a slight upset against Norwich, 28-26. Norwich had just one loss. Cunningham will play Pretty Prairie for the title at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“The supporting cast has been really key to our success, and will be key to any success we continue to have,” coach Meyers said.
The 5-foot-8 Nicholson, from Wichita Northwest, was a four-year starter and honorable mention All-American at Fort Hays. He holds FHSU career records for assists per game and free throws made, and is second in career steals. Nicholson played professionally overseas and is now back in the Wichita area. He is on Twitter at @CN3Training.
Notably, he trained Maize’s Halie Jones, who is a key player as a freshman for Division I University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and Derby standout freshman Maryn Archer, a Division I talent. Nicholson’s brother, Aaron, is currently a multi-year starter for FHSU and leads the Tigers in minutes played.
In the spring, Meyers sometimes drove an hour to meet with Nicholson, generally once a week. In early May, Nicholson posted a video to Twitter with the line “it’s going to be a big summer” for Meyers. She greatly enjoyed the challenge of facing top competition with Ohlde.
“Last summer was much different than the rest, and this is where I think I got a lot better was this last summer with Ohlde and Craig,” she said.
The squad traveled throughout the Midwest, including Dallas, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Wichita. As well, Meyers played with her Cunningham team in the summer and helped the Wildcats to a 16-1 mark. For summer 2020, Meyers expects to play for Wheat State Elite.
“Going into that summer between sophomore and junior year, I really gained confidence in myself, because my game was improving,” she said. “And that really all goes back to Craig Nicholson, because he helped give me confidence in myself and told me that I can be a really good player, but I just have to believe in myself.”
Nicholson helped Meyers understand the importance of going hard in workouts and dribbling drills. Nicholson had Meyers dribble in heavy gloves that didn’t have much grip, so she had to pound the ball harder.
“That really helped my dribbling game, and just making moves in the process of creating your shot really helps,” she said. “…Making a move like while I am going forward was really a big step for me. But it takes awhile. You have to work at it for sure.”
This fall, Meyers and 5-10 senior Holly DeWeese helped Cunningham reach the 1A state volleyball tournament and earn third. DeWeese was 1A first team all-state as an outside hitter. Meyers collected honorable mention libero, one of just two 1A liberos to earn all-state.
In basketball, Meyers quickly started strong with 27 points on 6 of 9 shooting in a 66-20 season-opening win versus Minneola. On Dec. 12, she had 26 points, eight assists and four steals versus Life Prep. Meyers tallied at least 23 points four times in the first five games.
“The confidence that Craig gave her – I think that’s carried over to all aspects of her game really,” coach Meyers said. “But shooting certainly, she is shooting the ball at a high rate.”
Meyers’ Hudl tape through six games showcased her wide array of skills. In the tape, Meyers goes 1-on-1 just inside half court. Meyers slowly dribbled as she reached the defender. Then, she quickly swung the ball behind her back from her right hand to her left and flew into the lane for a basket.
Another time, she did a hesitation move with a power right hand dribble and blew by the defense for a layup. Meyers effectively dribbles with her left hand, too, and can score on floaters, runners, and scoop shots, along with a 3-point game.
“She has always been able to handle the basketball, and go about anywhere she wants to go about as fast with the basketball as without it,” coach Meyers said. “But a lot of practice.”
This feature is presented by Wheat State Elite. Best of luck to Morgan this season. WSE and Owner Dylan Evans are proud supporters of high school basketball coverage with SIK.
Morgan Meyers and coach Meyers Q&A
Your family has a strong connection to basketball. What is that like?
Morgan: “I just knew I loved the game from second grade, and I wanted to keep working at it, and there hasn’t been a sport I have played that has meant as much as basketball has to me. And just everybody in my family loves the game of basketball, and I think that means something to me, too. I want to be good in something they love as well.”
You and senior Holly DeWeese have enjoyed great careers in volleyball and basketball. What is it like to play with her?
Morgan: “We have been playing together for a long time. I’d said third or fourth grade, and with that, we really understand one another. She knows when I drive, and the girls come, she knows to be expecting a pass from me, because that’s how it’s been for a long time. So Holly and I have a really strong connection, and next year I will for sure miss her a lot.”
What is it like to play for your dad?
Morgan: “Dad and I, we actually have a pretty strong connection, and we don’t tend to get into too many arguments, but I really like it. Having that connection with your dad, not only as dad, but also a coach, it means a lot, and it’s really fun.”
What were backyard games like with your older sisters?
Morgan: “When we played each other, it wasn’t always pretty. It got a little intense, but they definitely pushed me.”
You watched many big-time players growing up. Was Kobe Bryant one?
Morgan: “Kobe Bryant was one for sure, and seeing what’s going on, it’s really sad, and I can’t believe it.”
What colleges have contacted you?
Morgan: “There’s been some colleges that I have contacted me, but the ones that have really contacted me is Missouri Western and Washburn. I have been on one visit so far, and that’s been at Missouri Western, and I really like it, their campus and their coaching staff there. But Feb. 8, I am going to go visit Washburn and see how it is there.”
How does this week’s tournament help your team?
Morgan: “None of us on the team like blowing people out. We love good games, and we are ready for this tournament, because we know there’s a lot of good teams in it, and we want to see where we stand.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Morgan: “I have kind of had an interest in maybe coaching basketball sometime at a smaller school. Probably not a very big one, but probably like even college maybe. But if not then, I plan on majoring in financial business, and so just maybe working at a bank somewhere.”
What is your favorite subject in school?
Morgan: “Probably English. I have a really good teacher in that class, and she makes it enjoyable, and she really teaches it well, and so that’s what helps the most.”
What is your favorite place to eat?
Morgan: “Cunningham does not have anything. We just have Subway in Cunningham, but definitely Mexican food, and I just go 15 minutes to Pratt or Kingman and go to the Mexican restaurant there.”
Coach Meyers Q&A
You have coached/watched all three of your daughters. How is Morgan alike and different?
Coach Meyers: “She has such a great understanding of the game, and can manage the game as it goes. She is different though in that she more than the other two can create things on her own. She is more of a creator than the other two are.”
Holly DeWeese has been a key player all four years for you. What have you seen from her this season?
“I think that we are far from having peaked, which is exciting to me. I think Holly, and I noticed this is volleyball, too with her, I think it may just have to do with being a senior and the realization that this is the last go around, because she played her best volleyball this last year, and I think in the last couple three games, I have asked her to be more aggressive, search out shots a little more, and she’s feeling confident.
“She is a really good shooter. She can step away from the basket and make shots that a lot of big people can’t do, and just in practices, too, she has really stepped up her game.”