Next fall, there’s a good chance the eighth-grade English teachers at Trinity Catholic School in Fort Smith will dust off that age-old first-week-of-school composition assignment, “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.” And if they do, Morgan Sanger will have landed the easiest “A” of her scholastic career.
After all, vacation essays and odes to summer lawn mowing are dime-a-dozen stuff when compared to Sanger’s composition, which will elucidate her experience as a 13-year-old representing her country in international basketball competition.
Earlier this year, Sanger was accepted by PhD Hoops as a member of their American squad playing in the United World Games Tour in June. The squad will face international competition in Austria, Italy and Germany.
“I was super-excited and surprised,” Sanger said of making the squad. “I know I’m good, but I guess I didn’t see how good I was.”
In fact, Sanger is better than good, considering the competition is open to players 16 and younger and most of Team USA is a couple of years older than the 5-foot 7-inch guard. While Sanger admits this made the application process a little intimidating, her inclusion on the roster came as no surprise to her Trinity coach Jeff Meares.
“I’ve coached in the college ranks, and I’ve coached some (junior high) girls that have played in college, but none of the girls I’ve coached have had this kind of accolade,” he said of Sanger’s accomplishment.
“What stands out about Morgan is her drive to be the best. She’s always first one there and last one to leave. I’ve often had to tell her, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go to class and get out of the gym.’ It’s refreshing. It’s nice to have her.”
Sanger, whose family attends Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, comes by her athletic ability honestly. The middle of three, she first played basketball in second grade, and it’s remained her favorite among many other extracurriculars including volleyball, cheer, track, cross country and soon, football.
“I focus on basketball because I really like how it’s a team sport,” said Sanger, who plays for the Banshees AAU team as well as for her school. “It’s really competitive, but you always have fun no matter what the cost is.”
Sanger didn’t have to go far to find an outlet for her competitive tendencies; her 7-year-old brother Miles is also a jock as is older sister Madelynn, now 15 and attending Fort Smith Southside, and always up for a little driveway one-on-one. It wasn’t long before Morgan could more than hold her own.
“Having an older sister made me want to play more and get better than her and play with older kids and get to know her friends,” she said. "Sometimes we got mad at each other, but we always realize that’s what sisters are supposed to do.”
Taking this all in are the kids’ parents, Noel and Amy Sanger. Morgan’s dad said while he’s admittedly biased, he sees something special in his daughter, starting with a work ethic in the gym that has earned the seventh grader a squat of 200 pounds and a vertical box jump of 36 inches.
“One thing that I really know from her is, she isn’t a basketball player; she’s an athlete who got into basketball,” he said. “When I first brought her to Arkansas Banshees, I realized she was an athlete learning to play basketball.
“What sets Morgan apart is her belief that there’s always someone working harder or wanting to be better, so you better always be working. Never settle. You could always see that drive from her.”
Sanger has contributed to some powerhouse Trinity teams of late; as a sixth grader her team went undefeated and this season, the Buffalos posted a 21-4 record and a semi-final berth in the Heartland Christian Conference tournament. Individually, Sanger led the seventh-grade squad in assists and steals and was near the top in scoring as well.
After middle school, she plans to attend Fort Smith Northside and begin her quest for a collegiate basketball scholarship. But before then, she gets to show the world what she can do. Asked to scout herself, she offered the following assessment.
“If I was scouting me, I would say she can shoot the ball really well,” she said. “She drives to the basket, always knows who to pass to, is really fast, can get low on defense, steals the ball and passes if she’s in trouble.
“But more than that, I try to be humble and to be a nice person, a team player. My parents taught me to never give up on myself, because there always will be a way if you’re willing to work.”
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