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Spring Exhibition Match Practice

Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook (left) shakes hands with Ogallala volleyball coach Steve Morgan after thanking him and giving him a piece of the floor that the Huskers played on during their national championship win against Texas in 2016.

Steve Morgan has been in the front row for 45 years, watching the evolution of high school volleyball.

He has seen it all, but the continual rise in skill level in this state continues to amaze him.

"When I look back, way back when it was two out of three to 15 points, there was no thought of a rally score," Morgan said. "And now the skills these kids have, I don't care if they're 5-5 or 6-1, kids and coaches are getting better and better and learning the sport.

"Every year I just ask my wife how much better are these teams going to get in Nebraska? (Husker coaches) Terry Pettit and John Cook had a heck of a lot to do with that."

Ask any high school or youth volleyball coach, and they'll tell you Morgan had a similar influence — from coaching his high school teams to the thousands and thousands of hours he puts into his youth camps, teaching the basic skills.

Morgan, considered a pioneer in high school volleyball in Nebraska, is stepping down after 45 seasons at Ogallala.

"It was a tough decision," said Morgan, who was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. "I still have the energy and I have a passion for the game. But I just think after my 45th season that it was time, at least for now, to step back, take a look at things and go on."

Morgan is held in high regard from border to border in this state. The Nebraska volleyball team played an exhibition game in Ogallala in 2016. The selection of Ogallala as the host site was a salute to Morgan and what he had done for the game, Cook told the Journal Star at the time.

Morgan created a dynasty at Ogallala. He led the Indians to three state championships (1975, 1983 and 2000), four state runner-up trophies and 30 state tournament appearances. He is second in the state in career wins, and was closing in on No. 1,000.

That's a lot of winning. But Morgan said he'll remember the kids more, and the work they put into the sport.

Morgan, who didn't completely shut the door on returning to coaching in the future, said he met with the team a few days earlier to deliver them the news.

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"When they told me goodbye the other day, that was pretty tough," he said.

Though Morgan is stepping away from high school volleyball, he's not leaving the sport. Morgan has put on camps throughout the state for years, drawing players from across the country and Canada, and he intends to keep doing that.

It keeps him young, the 72-year-old said.

"I think right now my biggest passion is working with young people and bringing them up with mastery of the volleyball skills," Morgan said. "That's always been a passion of mine, to improve young kids, and I want to follow through on that.

"Just to even see a first-grader, a fourth-grader getting their foundation down on the passing, on the setting, on the serving, all of those fundamental skills that are so important to winning, then I can sit back and watch them in a little tournament and then a state championship, just to watch the improvement."

Morgan said he couldn't have done it without his wife, Kate, and their three children, Ryan, Amanda and Lindsay, who is an assistant volleyball coach at Ogallala.

"They got me through most of it, just their support," Morgan said.

Yes, Morgan will remain heavily involved in the sport of volleyball, but he'll have some more flexibility in his schedule to do a couple of things he hasn't had time for.

He was exchanging text messages with Cook about that on Wednesday night.

"I told him I wanted to come down and finally have an opportunity to watch some Husker volleyball," Morgan said. "He thought he could find a place for me."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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