Morgan Manchester dropped by the East Valley girls soccer camp earlier this summer.
“The freshmen watched her for a while, and then they asked me who she was,” coach Gabe Escobar laughed. “I told them that she was the team captain of the Gonzaga University women’s team, and that four short years ago she was on this very team and wore the same uniform that you’re going to wear if you work hard to make yourself better. Their eyes got kind of big and they were all very impressed.”
So much for being a returning legend at the old alma mater. But for Manchester, anonymity is nice.
“It was fun,” she said. “I have a sister on the team, but it’s gotten where I don’t recognize the faces of the younger players – the only ones I recognize are the juniors and seniors. I worked out with them for a while and that was good – I got a few touches and I think I needed that.”
A standout defender, Manchester was a four-year starter at East Valley – moving up to the midfield as a senior to fill a team need.
“She was only a second-team all-league pick by the coaches when she was a senior and I still think that was a big, big injustice,” Escobar said. “Just look at all she’s accomplished.”
Manchester was a late signee at Gonzaga by then-incoming head coach Amy Edwards and she found her way into the starting lineup for 14 of the Zags 20 games that season, and she’s started every game since. With Manchester in the lineup on defense, the Bulldogs have posted 15 shutouts – seven of them last season.
“When I first got here, they really made me feel welcome and at home,” she recalled. “It was a big help that Amy and I got here at the same time so everyone was all starting from the same place. That was big.
“Once I got out on the field, I was sure I was the one player holding everyone else back, but my teammates gave me confidence and made sure I was doing OK.”
Edwards set about improving the program in the always-tough West Coast Conference. In Manchester’s sophomore season, Gonzaga finished fourth in the conference, tying its best conference record, and made a bid for an at-large berth in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships.
A year ago, the team was winless in conference, finishing 0-6-2, but was 7-10-2 overall.
“Before I came here I had never lifted a single weight,” Manchester said. “I’m so much stronger than I was. I’m still not big, but I can still hold my own physically. What has been so great is the way our coaches have helped us become better people and better athletes. They work with us on how we train, they work with us on nutrition – all so we can get the most out of our time here.”
Last season, her teammates voted to make her a team captain – a rarity for a junior.
“I was honored that they wanted me to be a captain,” she said. “I’m not the kind of player who yells a lot; I’m more of a lead-by-example type. I’m glad my teammates look to me for leadership. That makes me want to work that much harder.”
Manchester’s senior season for the Zags officially begins Monday, but the returning team co-captain already has been hard at work.
“Our freshmen are all in Spokane and they’ve been working out in the weight room and meeting with Amy,” she said. “I’ve been talking to them and I think they’re all going to be ready to go just as soon as we start practice.”
The team will need to hit the ground running. The Bulldogs have a tough nonconference schedule that includes four matches with Pac-12 Conference teams (Washington State, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State), nonconference home matches with the University of South Dakota, Boise State, Seattle University and the University of Nevada along with a road trip to Tennessee to play Austin Peay and Vanderbilt.
The WCC schedule opens Oct. 7 at home against St. Mary’s followed by the University of Portland. The Zags play three straight matches on the road, at San Francisco, Brigham Young and Santa Clara. Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine come to Spokane for home games before the regular season concludes with a conference match at San Diego and a nonconference match at Eastern Washington.
A year ago both Pepperdine and Santa Clara finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 nationally, with San Diego, which finished tied with Pepperdine for the WCC conference title, also receiving votes in the coaches’ poll.
“Of all the matches we have this season, I think the one I’m looking forward to most is the one with Washington State,” Manchester said. “We have a real rivalry going with them and we haven’t beaten them in my time here. We’ve had very good games with them and we almost beat them last year. I want to beat them before I’m done.”
A biology major and an All-WCC academic honorable mention a year ago, Manchester said she’s beginning to think of life after soccer.
“One of my coaches was saying just the other day that we literally just have a few months left to play soccer,” she said. “I think I’m going to take a year off to work in the field before heading back to grad school. But I’m definitely going to grad school. Soccerwise, I will probably play one more season with the club team that I’m on. After that, who knows.”