Benefield: Santa Rosa High grad Morgan Bertsch leaves her mark on UC Davis basketball court

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


It was like something out of an investigation scene from a crime show: Grainy footage, hitting pause, looking at images to see what no one else sees.

UC Davis assistant women’s basketball coach Matt Klemin was watching game film of a player interested in becoming an Aggie. It was immediately clear that the player who sent the film was not Division I-caliber.

But that player from the other team, coming in and out of the frame? She’s something.

“’Who is that gazelle running in the back of this film?’” Aggies head coach Jennifer Gross remembered thinking.

The camera wasn’t focused on that player, but she stood out. But who was she?

“(Klemin) wasn’t sure who they were playing,” Gross said of the game tape. “Through a little digging, he realized it was Santa Rosa High.”

And the player was Morgan Bertsch.

Intrigued by what they saw on someone else’s film, the coaches came to watch Bertsch play for the Panthers.

Gross makes no bones about what they saw.

“She had a horrendous game. She was sick,” Gross said. “We were like, ‘I don’t know about this kid.’”

Still, they invited Bertsch to an Aggies camp the summer after her junior season. After one day, they knew.

“She’s not there yet, but the ceiling is really high,” Gross remembers the coaches thinking.

How about this for a ceiling: That essentially un-recruited post player who suited up for a solid Santa Rosa High team (but never played AAU hoops) on Sunday dropped in 31 points against Pacific to break the Aggies’ 35-year-old career scoring record. The 2014 Santa Rosa High grad has scored 1,712 points and counting.

Oh, and in the same game, she tallied five blocks to total 155 and break that school record, too. And she’s two games into her senior season, so you can bet those numbers will rise.

“I wish I could say I had a gut feeling” about Bertsch, Gross said. “Sometimes in recruiting you can get a little lucky.”

The Aggies, who play at Portland State tonight, clearly hit the jackpot with Bertsch. She has rewritten the record books. She has the single-season points record, the most career 20-point games and the most 20-point games in a season.

And that’s just basketball.

The biomedical engineering major slated to graduate in June also put in four seasons of varsity track and field and broke UC Davis’s high jump record as a junior.

I’m not making this up.

“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” Gross said.

And it could be argued that it couldn’t have happened to a different person.

Yes, Bertsch found her way onto the team with perhaps a little luck and thanks to a keen eye from the Davis coaching staff, but from there she made herself into the player she is today.

She redshirted her freshman year but in the second year in the program, Bertsch had grown her game so much that the Aggies were running plays specifically for their new post player.

She has started nearly every game of her career.

“The fact is, she was given the opportunity and made the most of it,” Gross said. “It’s been really fun to see her develop so quickly. It speaks to her commitment and her dedication to her craft.”

Gross, owner of the Aggies’ career assist record from her playing days, remembers early on testing the athleticism of the 6-foot-3 Bertsch.

“I’m going to be the point guard, you just run the floor, catch and finish,” she remembers telling Bertsch. “She’s flawless — grabbing everything.”

So Gross started giving her bad passes.

“I throw the ball off, a little to the right. I was throwing her bad passes to see if she could handle it,” she said.

She got them all. And she laid them all in.

“She is super mobile and super athletic,” Gross said. “She has really good touch and really good hands, which is something you can’t teach.”

But if it were, Bertsch would likely have that nailed, too.

“She is really bright. Not just in the classroom, but you talk about a scouting report, she’s all over it,” Gross said. “Boom, you show her one time and she’s got it.”

Bertsch says she didn’t feel bitter that UC Davis was the only Division I school that came calling — she felt thankful. She didn’t play with a chip on her shoulder from being overlooked; she played like a person given a golden opportunity.

“I wanted to show the coaches that ‘You made the right decision,’” she said. “I just go out every day and kind of try to pay back the people who have supported me and helped me along the way.

“I approached it more as thankful and incredibly blessed that this was even an option and these coaches managed to find me,” she said. “So many different things had to line up in order for me to be here. These coaches — this is where I’m meant to be, this happened for a reason. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

In a way, Bertsch will forever be at Davis. Her name, anyway. It’s everywhere in the record books. She’s a lock for the Aggie Hall of Fame. She is arguably the greatest player ever to suit up for the Aggies.

“It would be hard to disagree,” Gross said, noting that the Aggies have had “some tremendous players.”

Gross said Bertsch’s skills give her a shot at a career in the WNBA.

“She does things that you can’t defend at any level,” she said. “She’s a matchup nightmare.”

And she’s proven that she can grow. What she doesn’t have now? She can learn.

“She is so coachable,” Gross said.

So the coaching crew at UC Davis, those who discovered perhaps the greatest player in Aggie history from a few moments of grainy footage and a camera that wasn’t even trained on her, want the wider world to discover her, too.

“With the NBA and college hoops, there are so many guys that you can turn on the TV and watch,” Gross said. “We want our community to know that we have this amazing team but also this unbelievable player.”

The Aggies have 12 home games on the schedule this season. Catch her while you can.

“Players like this don’t come along very often,” Gross said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine