Morgan Phillips would probably be pretty good at poker.
With a steady hand and an air of unflappability, she has matured as a shooter in the last 12 months taking her from interesting to amazing in the eyes of college coaches.
But during a long recruiting process she almost met her match in West Virginia University Rifle coach Jon Hammond.
Hammond and the Mountaineers had shown an interest in Phillips from the time she started contacting schools during September of her junior year.
The reality of college recruiting and NCAA rules meant that interest could only go so far as Phillips waited.
But finally after an official visit to the campus a few weeks ago, Hammond extended a scholarship offer that she gratefully accepted signing her letter of intent during the official period.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s good to have it all over with and finally have it all settled. I’ve definitely been nervous throughout the process. I’m really excited to be a part of the team and just getting to where I want to be in the sport. I think this is the best place to help me get there.”
The Mountaineers have won 17 NCAA Rifle team championships with the most recent coming last season. They have appeared in 29 championships and produced 23 individual champions, 382 All-Americans and 30 Olympians since the team was started in 1951.
“They are a very competitive team,” Phillips said. “Their scores are around the same area — pretty high scores. It will be a challenge getting there. It’s a really good competitive environment, I think and it’s really going to push me.”
Phillips is one of three signees who will join the three-time defending NCAA champions for the 2016-17 season. She joins Jack Anderson of Franklin, Pennsylvania, and Milica Babic, of Belgrade Serbia on the co-ed squad.
“I’ve been talking to (Babic) some one Facebook already,” Phillips said. “It’s pretty cool to be able to do that before we even get there.”
Phillips said that, while many teams didn’t show as much initial interest in her, a fifth place finish (2nd in junior competition) at the 2015 USA Shooting National Championships created more of a buzz around her.
“She had a lot of options headed into this but she started narrowing them down so quickly that I thought I might have to intervene,” her dad Mike Phillips said.
But she was only really interested in a few schools and WVU was at the top of that list especially after having participated in their camp earlier this year.
She approached the whole process with the same calm she exhibits on the range — something her father knows has helped her.
“With this sport it is a lot of concentration and controlling your emotions all the time,” he said. “Her personality is smooth sailing all the time. She doesn’t have the high and lows as far as that goes. With her she doesn’t get rattled.”
Then when she went on to post a Minimum Qualifying Score slot at the 2015 ISSF Azerbaijan World Cup and shot a personal-best 585 small bore, it put her in elite company.
Nevertheless her official visit to Morgantown came and went without an offer. But it did further solidify the fact that she wanted to be there. She got to hang out with the team, tour the area, sit in on some classes and hit a pretty elaborate haunted house with those who will become her future teammates.
She didn’t have to wait too much longer, as just days after the visit she received the offer she was waiting for. While Hammond was playing it close to the vest, he seems pleased as well.
“We’ve known Morgan for a while,” Hammond told WVUSports.com. “Morgan’s smallbore has really come on in the last year, and that has led to international shooting opportunities. The MQS match in Azerbaijan was a big match for her, and she shot a personal best, which speaks volumes to her character and her ability to compete in big matches. Morgan’s air gun is improving, too, and I think she’ll make an impact on the team next year.”
While Morgan finishes out her senior year at the Salisbury School, she continues to hone her skills at several ranges spending countless hours both practicing and traveling to those ranges.
The Olympic trials are in March and she has a lot of preparing to do.
Then she’ll finally be a Mountaineer in the fall.
“I think there is definitely going to be a lot of pressure that comes with going to be on such a great team and there is a lot of expectation for that I think,” she said. “Since I have already gone to these bigger matches I think that is going to help me a lot.”