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It’s hard to understand how Morgan Bertsch could ever struggle with negative self talk. After all, what’s to be down about?

Bertsch, a 6-foot-4 junior on the undefeated UC Davis womens’ basketball team, is rewriting the Aggies’ record books while leading the team to a 9-0 record following Saturday’s 74-50 rout of St. Mary’s. Bertsch scored 23 points.

But Bertsch, coming off last year’s All-Big West Conference first team season, insists she hit some hurdles last season. Self doubt crept in.

How can that be? How does the player who started every game her sophomore season and 26 out of 33 contests in her redshirt freshman year, while becoming the Aggies’ leading scorer and second leading rebounder have self doubt? Bertsch was phenomenal in her sophomore campaign, becoming the school record holder for blocks in a season and climbing the ladder to become the school’s highest scoring sophomore ever.

Self doubt? Who’s buying what Bertsch is selling?

But she says there were times last season when she struggled, when a team seemed to know her game a little too well and where her tried and true moves were getting stopped. The voices in her head were telling her that conference foes were figuring out her game, that perhaps her stellar freshman campaign was because she was taking people by surprise.

“The struggle I had last year is they get to know you,” she said. “You can’t do the usual things you are used to doing. They have watched all your games, they have scouted. I hit a little wall during conference, it kind of alters your confidence a little bit. I didn’t know what my role was going to be if I couldn’t score all the time.”

Couldn’t score? Bertsch averaged nearly 16 points a game as a sophomore to lead the Aggies. She was the team’s second highest rebounder with more than five per game and was tied for second in steals. Blocks? Not even close. Her 57 on the season broke a record set in 2011.

And she runs up those numbers being on the floor fewer minutes than three out of the five starters.

Still, Bertsch said she feels like she must constantly improve her game. In the offseason she worked on her strength, worked on her outside shot, refined her dribbling skills. All this to quiet her own doubts.

“Positive self talk that a lot of people lack takes time to develop,” she said. “You just have to catch yourself in that moment.”

“Trust me, it’s been a journey. Last year I was really bad at it,” she said.

This year, she’s ready for the double- and triple-teams. This year she feels more composed under pressure.

“People are running for me, coming for me,” she said. “But if I can just hold my confidence and be collected?”

Something else might help too.

“If I could shoot the 3, that would make my life a lot easier,” she said, laughing.

“I’ve never been a 3-point shooter,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get there one day.”

Meantime, she is dropping in points from closer in, but generally at will.

Last month, Bertsch earned Big West Conference Player of the Week honors after she passed the 1,000 career point threshold, only the fourth Aggie in school history to do that as a junior.

She passed the mark in the second game of the season.

Bertsch is a rare athlete. She was a three-sport standout at Santa Rosa High who earned The Press Democrat All-Empire Large School Female Scholar Athlete of the Year honors, All-Empire Large School Girls Basketball Co-Player of the Year and All-Empire track honors for her high jump prowess three straight years.

But she wasn’t getting any looks from Div. 1 programs. She had some interest from Div. 2 programs: Mark Rigby, then Sonoma State’s coach, had inquired about her.

Bertsch had also talked to Lacey Campbell at Santa Rosa Junior College.

So when conversations with Aggies’ basketball coach Jennifer Gross and high jump coach Marshall Ackley went well, she went on a visit in the summer before her senior year.

She came home with a whopper of a deal.

“Full ride scholarship,” she said. “I did not see that coming. That kind of blew my mind.”

Ever humble, the self doubt crept in — just a little.

“I loved the team, I loved the coaches, I loved the school, it was close to home, it was awesome academics,” she said. “There must be something wrong with it.”

Both basketball and track coaches agreed to let Bertsch pursue both sports (she broke the school high jump record with a leap of 5-feet-10 inches last spring).

“They both know they have to share me a little,” she said. “My coach in track and Jen work together to create a schedule that works for me.”

“Obviously without the support of both of my coaches it would be virtually impossible to do,” she said.

So talented is Bertsch that even after a full basketball workout, she’s jumping personal bests on the track.

“A lot of times I’ll have basketball and I’ll have to go and try and jump,” she said, noting her track coach sometimes quips “I feel like I’m getting a run-down version of you.”

Even the so-called run-down version of Bertsch is stellar. She qualified for the NCAA West Regionals last spring.

Did I mention she’s a biomedical engineering major?

With all of those irons in the fire, basketball is her love. And thanks to her Aggies career, the player who once didn’t think she’d get a chance to play D1 hoops now plans on a career after graduation.

“I definitely plan on playing overseas when I’m done here,” she said. “I don’t know how long or where or anything really, but I definitely have major interest.”

But she has business in Davis to handle first.

The Aggies are off to a tremendous start, but Bertsch is focused on their finish. Last year the team was relegated to the WNIT instead of the NCAA tournament after being upset in the conference tournament by UC Santa Barbara.

“It was kind of a heartbreak,” she said.

It was also very real motivator for this season.

“The entire season you are talking about that you want to ‘go dancing,’” she said. “It was really heartbreaking for us.”

So the team is doubly focused this season, she said. And they are loaded. They graduated just one senior last year.

“We have the same exact team, same tools — we can do even better,” she said. “We have the right weapons.”

The most lethal weapon is Bertsch.

She’s not taking anyone by surprise any more but she no longer entertains any negative talk that once might have crept in.

She and her team are preparing now for what they hope will be a deep postseason run.

“We are not trying to be the 16 seed who loses by 30,” she said. “We want to put Davis on the map.”

Confidence sounds good coming from Bertsch.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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