By Joshua Price
Gaston High girls basketball head coach Tonya Bogle called a quick timeout after the ball stripped the net and the red, black and silver confetti flew from the Bulldog student section.
Senior guard Morgan Beaird had just connected on a 3-point shot moments earlier, giving her 2,000 career points as a Bulldog.
Bogle hurried to Beaird near mid-court, grabbed her and gave her a constricting congratulatory hug.
Beaird became only the fourth female high school basketball player to reach the 2,000-point mark, joining Hokes Bluff alumni Cassie Shields and Dale Walton and fellow Gaston graduate Judy Pitts.
“I was nervous all day before the game,” Beaird said. “I really wanted to get it that game just to get it over with. There was so much pressure to just do it. I didn’t even realize I had this many points until earlier this season.”
Bogle said the points could not have come at a better time.
“I told her to just relax and not try to get it all in the first quarter,” Bogle said. “But she came out shooting and couldn’t miss! I was glad for her to get the points. It was a great accomplishment for her and also for the team. It was something we wanted her to accomplish and help her accomplish, but I’m glad she did it before the tournament started so we could enjoy it without all of the distractions. I was glad it came when it did!”
Bogle said it takes a special person to score so many points.
“It’s a big deal to reach this milestone because not many people get the opportunity to do it,” Bogle said. “You either have to play a lot of games or score a lot of points. She did both and that makes her very special.”
Beaird indeed played a lot of basketball games over the past six years.
“Morgan never played junior high or junior varsity,” Bogle said. “She went straight into varsity basketball from the YMCA youth league.”
Beaird joined the girls’ varsity basketball team as a seventh grader at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, during which she netted 79 points. Beaird started the following season as an eighth grader and the points began to pile on.
“I have played on good teams here at Gaston,” Beaird said. “When I was younger all I had to worry about was making open shots because defenses were more worried about other players than myself. Those were the easy days!”
Beaird is doubtless one of the top scoring threats in Etowah County and is averaging around 20 points per game and 53 percent from the 3-point line. She is the focal point of every defense the Bulldogs have faced this season.
“Offensively, we set screens and picks for her,” Bogle said. “She draws so much attention from the defenses and she is constantly having to run to get open because people are always hanging on her, I don’t care who we play. She loves to play, but sometimes she doesn’t enjoy playing because she has defenders hanging all over her to keep her from scoring. She gets a little frustrated, but she stays focused on the game plan and what we need to do to win. She gets her points one way or another.”
Beaird often faces double-teams and customized defenses, which are designed to stop scorers.
“Its hard but you have to keep on playing,” Beaird said. “If you worry about it too much, you will get distracted and start forcing and missing shots. You just have to let the game come to you. Teams have been playing a ‘Box-and-one’ defense against me since I was in the ninth grade, but I have learned how to find open shots even against those kinds of defenses.”
Bogle, who coaches both the boys and girls varsity squads, often practices the two teams at the same time – pitting Beaird against bigger, faster and stronger boys.
“It does our girls a lot of good to play against the boys,” Bogle said. “The speed of the game naturally increases, so the girls have to play harder to keep up. Sometimes the boys get a little cocky and want to cover her, but she still scores her points. It helps her game out tremendously.”
Morgan’s dad, Brent, netted over 1,800 points for Gaston in the 1980’s. The elder Beaird doubtless passed the scoring skills to his daughter.
“I started playing basketball when I was four years old,” Morgan said. “My dad used to take me to the YMCA with him almost everyday and we would shoot free throws. I would shoot at least 250 every time we went. He kept my percentages to track my improvements.”
Morgan recently placed second in the nation in a free throw shooting competition in Massachusetts.
How good of a shooter is Beaird from the field? Bogle holds high praise for the senior guard.
“In 28 years of coaching, she is the best shooter I have ever coached,” Bogle said. “If you give her a look from the outside, she can knock it down. She has a quick release and she is accurate from up to seven feet outside the line.”
Bogle said Beaird’s success comes at a high price.
“She has spent many, many, many hours practicing and shooting to develop the skills she has. She has sacrificed a lot of her time to get this far. She has worked at it all her life. She has given up practically every summer she has ever had to play basketball in travel leagues such as the AAU circuit (Alabama Twisters) and Boo Williams tournaments. She also played on the Nike team. Most of those girls go on to play college basketball. She has played enough at a higher level that high school ball, at times, is not much of a challenge for her.”
Bogle said Beaird is more than just an offensive threat.
“Morgan is an all-around player. If we have to put her on their best defender we will, but we try not to do that because it can take away from her offense or get her in foul trouble. She knows the game. She played so much basketball at such a young age that she matured quickly. She understands the game and how to manage it. She has her moments when she doesn’t play well, but everybody is like that; however, night-in and night-out she is consistent in what she does.”
Beaird loves the game and wants to play college basketball next season.
“I know she wants to go on and play college ball,” Bogle said. “Outside of basketball she is just a normal kid and loves to do other things, but she knows basketball is her opportunity to get a free education. We are working on a scholarship at the University of Mobile. Ebony Ferguson (former Gaston standout) is an assistant coach there and hopefully we can get something done soon.”
Beaird is not only a good athlete, she is a great student. She currently holds a 4.0 grade point average and is a contender for valedictorian of her class. She plans to study nursing.
“I really like Mobile,” Beaird said. “I know I will get to play when if I go there. Also, I want to go into nursing, so I had to find a school that would fit my career choice. They have a very nice campus down there, too. What is most important is that I get my school paid for.”
Bogle said Beaird’s experience in travel ball will carry over into the next level.
“College shouldn’t be too big of a transition for her because she will only have to worry about one defender,” Bogle said. “She will just have to worry about making her shots because the defenders won’t be hanging all over her.”
Beaird talked about the experience from winning the Class 1A state volleyball championship in 2008 and the leadership role she took on this season.
“It takes a team to win something like that, everyone has their roles,” Beaird said. “I am a different kind of leader. I lead by example. I don’t get loud and I don’t like to boss people around, but I guess if it came down to it I would. When we won state I was a freshman. I learned a lot from the older girls. I’ve always played with older girls and [this year] I realized that I was the older girl! I felt like I had to make a transition into more of a leader.”
Bogle is proud of the accomplishments of Beaird and would not hesitate to put the ball in her hands in any situation.
“She is as confident as any player around and I would put my money on her to make the game-winning shot if need be.”