Deme Morales has been the jack-of-all-trades for the Wisconsin volleyball team this season. The 5-foot-7 sophomore from Amherst, Ohio has played almost every position for the Badgers this season and seems to have finally settled into her role as a back row player for Wisconsin. Badgers’ coach Pete Waite said Morales was recruited as a back row player, but her athleticism made her a viable option for multiple positions.
“She’s a great jumper and a great attacker, but in the Big Ten, the block is an important thing that is often tougher for smaller players,” Waite said. “She was ultimately made for the back row. When she’s playing with confidence she brings a great energy, and her ball control skills are so good.”
Last season, Morales appeared in only 14 of the Badgers’ 30 matches on the season. She split time as both a hitter and defender. In order for Morales to contribute more this season, she knew she would play more in the back row as Wisconsin already had a full arsenal of hitters.
Morales has started 11 matches for the Badgers this season, appearing in 19. Earlier on, she was getting more action as a hitter than as a defensive specialist. She had a career high in kills (10), attempts (29), and percentage (.769) earlier this season in the Georgia Southern Invitational against Savannah State. She was later named to the GSI all-tournament team. However, more recently, Morales has been starting in the back row alongside junior libero Annemarie Hickey and sophomore Caroline Workman.
When asked what she misses most about playing in the front, Morales noted the players in the back don’t always get credit for what they do.
“I miss being the big dog and the big scorer,” Morales said. “I feel like a lot of people recognize the big hitters all the time. They’re like the All-Stars of the team. We just try to make it that exciting in the back row when we get digs.”
Despite starting only 11 matches, Morales ranks fourth on the team in digs per set with 1.88. Morales is coming off a career high in digs in last Friday’s match versus Indiana. She recorded 18 digs on the night, which was second highest total in the match, trailing only Hickey’s tally of 19.
Another stellar aspect of Morales’ game is her serve. Waite said Morales is one of only two players on the team who possesses a dominant top spinning jump serve. Because of that, Morales ranks fourth on the team in service aces with 11 on the season, a number that will certainly go up should she continue to receive more playing time. Morales said that she is gaining confidence every time she plays in the back.
“I played all the way around in high school, including the back row,” Morales said. “But I think you have to put a lot of pressure on yourself because there’s only so many things you can do to contribute [in the back].”
Wisconsin takes pride in its defense. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in digs, averaging 16.08 per set. The Badgers are 8-4 on the season when they out-dig their opponent and 13-4 when they out-block their opponent. Hickey leads the conference in digs per set with 4.58, and thinks Morales is an added dimension to the Wisconsin back row.
“She’s a very good communicator,” Hickey said. “She adds a lot of fire to the team. She’s been working real hard on her defense and her passing and you can see that. She always stays positive and she never is getting negative about things. She’s always trying to do her best on the court.”
In the eight main statistical categories (kills, attempts, hitting percentage, assists, service aces, blocks, digs and points), Morales has tied or set career bests this season. She has more than tripled her digs per set and service aces per set from last season.
As Wisconsin opens up the second half of the Big Ten season this weekend against Illinois, the Badgers will need to improve their serve receive in order to make a push in the standings, something Morales will be a big part of. Wisconsin is giving up 3 service aces per set, while they are averaging only .71 aces per set themselves. In their last two matches against Minnesota and Indiana, the Badgers have given up 10 and 11 service aces, respectively.
When asked what her best trait was in the back row, Morales didn’t hesitate.
“Intensity,” Morales said.
Wisconsin will look to ride that intensity through the second half of their season.