When Wayne Gretzky dominated the NHL in the’80s and
‘90s, people described his playmaking ability as a
“sixth sense.” Gretzky had the ability to think several
plays ahead and seemed to always be in the right place at the right
time.

With forwards and midfielders like seniors Jessica Blake and
Adrienne Hortillosa firing shots from all angles, the Michigan
field hockey team was in need of someone with a sense for picking
up rebounds and errant passes.

Junior Katie Morris fit the mold. She has used her “sixth
sense” to propel her from perpetual bench warmer to one of
the Wolverines’ top scorers.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Morris began playing field hockey in
fourth grade and immediately fell in love with the game. Her father
is a lifelong ice hockey fan, so Morris saw field hockey as her
opportunity to continue his legacy.

“I’m his only child, so I think that field hockey
being for girls kind of pushed me in that direction,” Morris
said. “The first time I played, I liked it, and I just kept
doing it.”

Morris spent her weekends around Michigan’s field hockey
teams, serving as a ball girl. Playing for the Wolverines was a
dream of Morris’s, but the continuous improvement of
Michigan’s program had her questioning if she would ever make
it.

“I remember being a ball girl for the Michigan team and
thinking they were so cool,” Morris said. “It was
always in the back of my head that I wanted to come here. They kept
getting better and better, and, in 2001, I watched them win the
national championship. Then I started having doubts if I could
really come here.”

Having seen her develop as a player, Michigan coach Marcia
Pankratz gave Morris an opportunity to play for the Wolverines.
After earning her spot at Michigan, Morris redshirted during her
freshman year and still had lingering doubts as to whether she
really belonged. The limitless faith that her teammates have in her
helped her develop into one of the Wolverines’ key
players.

“A lot of times I don’t think I had the confidence
to be sure that I could make it out here,” Morris said.
“Advice from (field hockey teammates) or positive words of
encouragement like ‘Morris, we want you out here, you
belong’ have helped to build me up and build my
confidence.”

After a strong spring season, Morris has seen increased playing
time and has earned a starting job on the Wolverines’ roster.
Spring field hockey offers the team a chance to work on individual
skills and it gave Morris an opportunity to develop confidence that
she lacked.

“After last fall, I got in a few games, but I didn’t
really know what this year would bring,” Morris said.
“This spring, when we played scrimmages, I could see it
developing that I did have an opportunity to become a role player
and to contribute. I had a good spring season and just had to carry
it over to the fall.”

While Blake has emerged as one of the nation’s premier
scorers, even the best miss shots at times. Morris has capitalized
on many of these near misses scoring 10 times, good enough for
second on the team.

“(Morris) is just always a half second or a second
ahead,” Pankratz said. “When everyone else thinks they
are going to shoot, she has just got great timing. She’s got
special hands when it comes to goal scoring.”

Realizing that this sense is a rare gift, Morris focuses on
developing skills necessary to convert missed chances.

“I won’t be having those beautiful goals like Jess
Blake with the big windups,” Morris said. “I focus on
rebounds and tips, timing and cutting. I’m trying to think
two steps ahead where the ball is going to pop out so that I can
tap it in.”

On Saturday, the Wolverines defeated Northwestern 4-2, when
Morris used her knack for finding rebounds to put one in. After
Wildcat goalkeeper Sherrie Anne Nyberg stopped a shot, it bounced
across the circle, and right on to the stick of Morris, who put it
in the back of the net. Morris also added two more goals on Sunday,
twice capitalizing on good position and accurate passes from
teammates.

Pankratz is thankful for Morris’s sixth sense and realizes
that is a gift that not even the best coach can give.

“I don’t think that you can coach it,”
Pankratz said. “It’s a really natural thing, and she
has it for sure.”

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