By Lauren Amour
Freshman opposite hitter Morgan Romano received her first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Week honor on Sept. 3, when she was eating lunch and her teammates approached her saying “Congratulations!” Romano was confused by the congratulatory remarks before she had realized that she won her first award at the collegiate level.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, congrats,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ I had no idea what they were talking about. I honestly wasn’t even thinking about that when I started playing,” Romano said. However, she was not always the esteemed volleyball player she is today.
As a child, Romano played multiple sports, including gymnastics, cheerleading, basketball and soccer. These were all in addition to volleyball, which she began playing in first grade when she was just six years old. She loved the sport so much that she decided to continue playing. Romano’s mother, Donna Frawley, also played volleyball and softball in her youth.
Prior to Rider, Romano attended Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida, and posted an impressive 744 kills, 121 blocks, 70 service aces and 377 digs over her four-year varsity career. She also received a multitude of awards, including a Coaches Award in 2015 and 2016, earning First Team All-Conference and Second Team All-Area distinction as a junior and collected her second First Team All-Conference honors as a senior in 2018.
She was a member of Hagerty’s beach volleyball team, played club for Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy and was named an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) All-American three times as well. Romano attributed her early collegiate success to her high school coaches.
One of her proudest moments was being named AAU 13u Club Division MVP for the tournament in 2014.
Being a Florida native, Romano discovered Rider after being recruited by former volleyball Head Coach Christopher Feliciano after a tournament in Orlando. A few months after Feliciano reached out, Romano visited Rider’s campus for the first time. Although she visited other colleges, Rider left a great first impression on her.
She eventually got an e-mail announcing the hiring of current Head Coach Jeff Rotondo, whom she first met in late June 2019.
“The first time I met her was late June down in Orlando,” Rotondo said. “I was down there recruiting at the AAU National Championships at the Convention Center. I reached out to her because they [Romano and Frawley] live about 20-30 minutes away from there, and I wanted to see if they wanted to meet for dinner.”
Romano felt that her coaches and teammates made her decision in committing to Rider an easy one.
“I love the new coaches and I’m glad that I stayed here. When I came here and met the girls, they made it feel like home. They’re a great group of girls and I really like them.” she said.
As a three-time member of the National Honor Society at Hagerty, her volleyball career was not the only thing on her mind when committing to a school.
“Honestly, the academics was one of the biggest things I was looking for,” Romano said.
Additionally, Rider’s close-knit community also drew her in.
“I really like the school, I like that it’s a smaller campus, that’s what I was looking for. I know my professors well… and if I talk to them, they know who I am,” said Romano. She is currently a major in elementary education with a concentration in multidisciplinary studies and a minor in special education.
Transitioning into college after high school is difficult, and although Romano has adjusted well, she struggled at first just as everyone else would as a college freshman.
“At first it was really tough, it’s just me and my mom, so leaving her at first was really tough. But, the girls are great. They’re always there for me, I talk to them about everything, about schoolwork, and not even just volleyball, but just about everything. It’s nice to know I have 12 other girls I can talk to,” she added.
In terms of volleyball, Rotondo believed that Romano did not act like a rookie.
“I think she has a good amount of confidence in herself as a player, but not in a bad way,” Rotondo said. “I don’t think she comes across as cocky. I think she believes she can get the next point even if she was blocked or hit the ball out. So, in that way, I think she just carries herself more like a veteran,”
Although she is far from home, Romano is seldom homesick because she has family scattered throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. She said family has attended each of Rider’s away games this season. Her grandparents attended a game on Oct. 16 against Iona in New Rochelle, New York, in which Rider won 3-1. Her mother visits from Florida frequently, as she was just at a game and will be attending family weekend with more of Romano’s family.
In between practices, games and traveling, Romano finds time to just be a regular college student. Monday is the team’s off day, and Romano said it is so nice to just be able to catch up on homework and hang out with her friends outside of their sport. “The past couple Mondays, me and the other freshmen have gone to the movies, gone to a pumpkin patch, it’s so nice to just hang out with them,” she said.
Romano has made quite an impact early into her freshman campaign. She has earned MAAC Rookie of the Week eight times in a row, breaking the record for most Rookie of the Week awards earned by a MAAC player.
“It’s really nice to break the record, because honestly I was not expecting this at first when I got here. And when I kept getting it, I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ It was just really nice. It just feels really good to break the record, but I couldn’t do it without my coaches and teammates,” she stated.
What has impressed Rotondo the most about Romano was her resiliency.
“There’s been a lot that has been thrown at her as a freshman,” Rotondo said. “Expectations, and then being thrown in as a starter right away, having a lot of the accolades early, she’s had a couple matches where she does struggle. But she doesn’t seem to be letting that affect her. She comes to practice, she’s working really hard on the academic side, so I think she’s a pretty resilient athlete. I think it’s an amazing thing to see because that will benefit her moving forward for sure.”
Romano was also named MAAC Player of the Week on Sept. 24 and to the All-Tournament Team at the Georgetown Classic and Rider Athlete of the Month for September. She currently leads the MAAC in kills, kills per set, points and points per set. In the future, Romano plans to try out for the Olympic team her junior year and continue her volleyball career after college.
Despite the remarkable start, Romano does not let the success go to her head.
“[Being rewarded] is not my main focus,” Romano said. “My main focus is just to get better.”