Every player has their own experience with the recruiting process and a unique athletic career—if you want to play at the next level, then getting good advice from older players is crucial. Interviewing professional athletes, coaches, and recruiting coordinators has been a dream of mine and now it’s coming true! I’m so excited to share the very first Player Journey on BreakOut Sports!
First up is outside hitter, Deme Morales. Deme is originally from Ohio and played at UW-Madison (graduating class of 2015). Deme went on to play professionally for a couple of years in the Danish league and then for a season in the Puerto Rican league. She still plays recreationally and coaches a local club team.
Deme recently answered a few of my questions about her career and what it took for her to breakout:
BOS: Was there anything you did in high school that helped you to get noticed by college recruiters?
DM: I felt like showcases were super helpful. I was exposed to playing with people I’d never played with before, and there were hundreds of coaches observing. I also would look at colleges that I was interested in and/or those that were interested in me and I would check their roaster to see what my odds of playing were had I potentially gone to those schools. Playing club helped the most, because the rules were different years ago, but it’s a great venue to be seen by thousands of college coaches.
BOS: What kinds of qualities and attitudes (on and off the court) will help athletes to succeed at the next level?
DM: I would say the best athletes are fearless, competitive, confident, humble, coachable, and versatile. These qualities should be applied to any student-athlete on and off the court, and even in the classroom.
BOS: You’re on the shorter side for an outside hitter, but you played front row in college and professionally. What would you say to shorter athletes who are worried they aren’t big enough to play at the next level?
DM: I do believe that you have to know your limits. Even though I am a shorter hitter, I did have to prove myself worthy of being on the court. I had to work out and practice hard to be able to prove my ability to keep up with the bigger blockers. I had to become more skilled in my attack because I couldn’t depend on hitting balls straight to the floor like my 6’5” counterparts. As I mentioned, I had to know my strengths and weaknesses, and I didn’t always get to play front row, so I worked to develop my backrow skills, which made me a valuable player on the court.
Even though I didn’t contribute much on the block, my defense, serve reception, and my attack added value to having me on the court. However, there were plenty of times that my presence on the court couldn’t defeat bigger hitters who could hit overtop my block. I think one of the most valuable things I learned to develop was my mental game, and my self-talk. When I wasn’t playing, I had to remind myself that I was worthy of being a part of something bigger than myself because of all the hard work I put into a sport that I loved so much, and for that fact alone I was striving to make the others around me better.
BOS: What specifically do shorter players need to do to get noticed by recruiters?
DM: Be upbeat, positive, and competitive. Challenge yourself to develop your game in more areas than one whether it’s fundamentally or mentally. Recruiters take a keen eye for players that can handle adversity, so being a mentally strong player will get you very far.
BOS: What led up to your decision to play professionally? How did playing professionally affect you as a person?
DM: It’d always been a dream in the back of my mind. My decision was led by teammates who pursued playing abroad before me, and them encouraging me to play on the same team. It did affect me in more ways than I can even comprehend. The experience of living abroad is one that I will never take for granted. I was immersed into a new culture, and a different perception of sport itself. I had to self-coach, and depend on all the coaching I had before playing abroad to help lead me in my professional career. I had to make decisions for myself, and the decisions that I made I had to face alone whether they were good or bad. It was a life changing experience, and those experiences continue to shape the young adult I am becoming.
BOS: Is there any advice you would give to players who want to play professionally? How can they prepare? How is it different from playing in college?
DM: There really isn’t anything that can prepare you, besides being open minded to the opportunity. Be open to new coaching styles, new culture that may be different from your own, and be willing to explore. Don’t be swayed by your fear of the unknown. Playing abroad is INCREDIBLY different than playing in college. In college your every move is monitored; abroad, you are a professional and are treated as one. The game becomes a lot different when you are getting paid for your performance vs. playing for a conference championship or a national title.
BOS: Is there a specific highlight from your career that you will always remember?
DM: In college – Making a Final 4 appearance after Wisconsin’s drought of not having made the tournament in so many years. Then winning the BIG10 Championship my senior year. Abroad – The experience of living in a new city and being so far away from my parents. I made so many friendships and memories that I will never forget or take for granted. I saw so many beautiful things that I only figured I would see on movies.
BOS: What does your volleyball career mean to you now?
DM: Everything. It’s shaped me into the person I am today. I love the sport because it taught me so much about myself, but it also brought me to places I’d never thought I’d go – physically and mentally. I’m so fortunate to have this sport in my life because I have and still continue to meet the most incredible people. All because we share one common interest – the love for volleyball, and the unity that it provides us.
A huge thanks to Deme for sharing her journey with us! If you’ve got a story to tell or a desire to help other athletes to breakout, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up below to get weekly BreakOut Sports updates directly in your inbox.