STANARDSVILLE — Listed at 5-foot-3, Hailey Morris is one of the shorter players on William Monroe’s girls basketball roster. The diminutive shooting guard played much bigger than that last weekend as she led the Greene Dragons to their second straight Daily Progress Holiday Hoops Classic championship.
Morris averaged 15.6 points a game in the tournament, including a team-high 16 points in a win over Charlottesville in the title game to garner tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
Those accomplishments make Morris this week’s Schewels Athlete of the Week.
“Over the [winter] break, I was able to put a lot of concentrated work into certain aspects of my game, which gave me a lot of confidence coming into the tournament [last] week,” Morris said. “We obviously didn’t expect to be without [leading scorer] Sam [Brunelle], but I tried to stay as calm as possible and stay within the parts of my game that I know best and not force anything. We have a lot of really talented players on our team and everyone is capable of having a great game on any day. I just wanted to play hard and do whatever I could to help my team win.”
Morris’ tournament performance was not out of the norm. The William Monroe standout was a first team all-district performer last season as a freshman and served as a perfect complement to Brunelle as a ball handler and perimeter threat. The arrival of point guard Bryonna Woofter has allowed Morris to transition back to shooting guard, her more natural position.
William Monroe coach Jess Stafford said those big minutes as a freshman has really helped improve her game.
“She’s matured so much in her decision making and keeping her composure,” Stafford said. “She’s a firecracker and plays with a ton of emotion. She’s learning how to use her emotions to help her and keeping her cool. She is a tenacious defender, an offensive weapon and a vocal leader on the floor. The team would not be the same without her.”
But basketball wasn’t always her first love. Always a competitor, Morris’ parents involved her in numerous sports.
“I wanted to try to play softball, but after two black eyes throwing with my dad in the backyard, I decided it wasn’t for me,” Morris said. “I also played soccer on and off from the time I was in kindergarten, but it was never the sport I was in love with.”
In the third grade, Morris’ dad took her to see the University of Virginia play Tennessee and that ignited a passion for the sport. She went to a UVa basketball camp later that summer and that evolved into playing rec league basketball and later AAU ball in Richmond with the Cap City Ballerz.
“When I first started playing basketball, a lot of girls I played with were much better than me, but I had so much fun playing, and I loved being around my teammates and I continued to work hard and pushed to be better,” Morris said. “Basketball not only brings me so much happiness to play, but it also has taught me so many great lessons about hard work, time management and toughness. I’m so lucky I get to be around it every day and form lifetime bonds. Basketball has become a core part of who I am, and I am so grateful I got the chance to fall in love with it over the years.”
In addition to soccer and softball, Morris and her younger sister Keegan trained in mixed martial arts during elementary school. Her cousin ran the MMA Institute in Charlottesville and he talked the siblings into trying it out.
Morris said they trained for about seven months and it served as a big confidence booster for the sisters.
“It wasn’t something I did for a very long time, but my favorite part was probably when me and my sister would come home afterwards and practice the moves on each other,” Morris said. “It helped me become tougher and come out of my shell a little bit more.”
On the court, she enjoyed watching former Lakers great Kobe Bryant play and tried to emulate aspects of his game.
“Kobe has been one of my favorite players for a very long time, but obviously my game is very different from his,” Morris said. “My dad has always tried to emphasize Kobe’s mindset and the way he approaches the game to me and incorporate some of the same things he did.”
Another of her favorite players growing up was former UVa standout and current Harcum College coach Lexie Gerson.
“I loved watching her play at UVa and she taught me a lot about the game of basketball and how to lead and be a tough player,” Morris said. “She has had a huge impact on the way I play now.”
Morris always is looking to improve her game and works constantly to become more of a well-rounded player. This offseason, she worked with her dad on improving her jump shot and they broke down film to fine-tune some small details in her shot. She also continues to work on her quickness, her ability to finish at the rim and improving her on-ball defense.
Stafford said she took Morris to a point guard college camp two summers ago and the experience transformed her into an immediate team leader.
“She understands that in order to be a leader, you have to dare to be different,” Stafford said. “Hailey isn’t afraid to be vocal, to be a thermostat and change the energy in the room, to direct traffic when needed. She wants to be a glue [player] for us, to bring us together and she does a great job.”
Stafford sees Morris as an extension of her on the court.
“We have a great relationship,” Morris said. “We trust each other. I know I can count on her to relay the message to the players on the court.”
“Playing for Coach Stafford has been something I’ve looked forward to since I was in the sixth grade,” Morris said. “Coach Stafford not only teaches us about the game of basketball, but she really focuses on making us better people. She can be tough on us at times, but we all know she really cares for us and only wants to make us better.”
Off the court, Morris is just as active. The William Monroe sophomore enjoys writing, reading and drawing. She started writing in the fifth grade and keeps a journal of her thoughts and any interesting stories that come up. In addition, she enjoys drawing realistic faces and hands as well as picturesque scenes.
She’s a member of the National Art Honor Society and Beta Club. Morris is big into service and is part of the mentorship club, where she’s paired with children at the elementary schools in the area. She’s also a part of the Future Dragons, which allows her to connect with younger kids in the community that strive to play sports in high school one day.
“I really enjoy all of these, because it creates opportunities for me to play a larger role in my community and provide an example for younger children while I’m doing things that I love,” Morris said.
Not to be outdone, she fancies herself as a pretty good cook, too.
“I love to bake, and I can make a pretty awesome no-bake cheesecake,” she said.
As the calendar flips to January, the William Monroe girls basketball team is right where it wants to be. The Dragons are 7-2, with their only two setbacks coming to teams from outside of Virginia. Morris knows there’s still plenty of work to be done to achieve their goal.
“This season has been an amazing experience so far,” Morris said. “My teammates and coaches have been super supportive and loving and they push me to be better every day. I expect us to grow as individuals and as a team from here. Since this is my last season playing with Sam, we hope to make it as successful as possible and make a deep run into the playoffs as well.”
The Greene Dragons reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals last season. Morris and her teammates hope to play a little longer this winter.
“The perfect season for us would definitely end with a state championship, especially since it’s Sam’s senior year,” Morris said. “I’m so lucky that I get the opportunity to play and become friends with a great player and person like her. She’s one of the hardest workers I know and is such a great role model for us in the coming years. We are going to miss her a lot next year, but we hope to make the most of every opportunity that we have with her now. We just have to continue to work hard and focus on the things that we can control for the remainder of the season.”