Deme Morales doesn’t fit the typical mold of an outside hitter. Standing at just 5-feet 7-inches, she is the shortest outside hitter in the Big Ten by three inches. The average outside hitter in the league has a full six inches on Morales.
But even as the shortest net player in the Big Ten, Deme Morales plays like a giant.
In her junior year, Morales has broken out as one of Wisconsin’s best all-around players. She is averaging 2.34 kills per set and 2.31 digs per set on the season in a dual role of both outside hitter and defensive specialist.
The Amherst, Ohio-native said she needs to use other techniques to be able to score at the net when she’s up against players who are as tall as 6-feet 5-inches.
“With taller blocks, you can’t get around them straight ahead, so with shorter blocks, you have to find other ways to score off people,” Morales said. “Like tooling off blocks and finding open shots. Just being more aware of your surroundings is what I’ve had to become better at.”
Morales hasn’t always been one of the shorter players. Playing on her junior high and high school volleyball teams, Morales manned the position of middle blocker and was one of the tallest players on her team. She said it wasn’t until she began playing for her club team did she start competing against girls who were 6-foot 3-inch.
One attribute that has helped Morales get past her lack of height has been a strong intensity and toughness she brings to volleyball. Morales had to learn to be tough at a young age. At five years old, she started to play soccer, and eventually became the only girl on the roster of the boys’ team. She was encouraged by her coach to stick with the boys’ team because her aggressive nature.
Morales also grew up with two older brothers, something that helped her develop thick skin early on and something that taught her how to play aggressively in her athletics.
Freshman setter Lauren Carlini said the intensity Morales brings on the court is obvious.
“She’s a fierce person,” Carlini said. “On the court, she’s just one of those people who loves to compete, who loves to just battle and grind.”
Carlini said when she sets balls for Morales, she tends to place the ball a bit lower and faster so Morales will have time to work around the opponents’ block. She said Morales is most effective attacking the ball down the line to avoid the block, something she’s able to do because of her uncanny accuracy.
Carlini also praised the athleticism of Morales — she is able to hang in the air to get off the shot she wants. Morales has a vertical leap that allows her to compete with blockers on the other side of the net who are 10 inches taller.
Morales puts her leaping ability towards one of the most powerful jump serves in the Big Ten. She began using a jump serve and started hitting more aggressive attacks at the net while playing for her club team. However, it wasn’t until this season Morales felt like she’s become comfortable with the jump serve.
“It was kind of embarrassing at first because it was so awkward,” Morales said. “It was erratic when I would hit the ball. I remember at club tournaments, parents would be behind me and you could hear them question what I was doing.”
Morales said the pressure of hearing the whispers behind her back was part of the motivation she needed to perfect her serve and become more mentally tough.
Along with her aggressive attacks, Morales shows her aggressive attitude on the court. She said it feels genuine to let out all of her raw emotion after a huge kill, something that helps her and the team get motivated.
Off the court, Morales is a different person. She described herself as “shy” and “timid,” not at all like the person smacking jump serves and hitting powerful attacks at the net.
“I’m a little more quiet,” Morales said. “I’m kind of slow to warm up off the court. On the court is kind of a different game. When [I] cross the line, [I’m] a different person.”
Even though she’s not as outgoing off the court, head coach Kelly Sheffield said she is fearless on the court — claiming her intensity and competitive nature helps her succeed in the country’s best volleyball conference.
“I’d rather wrestle a bear than Deme Morales,” Sheffield said.