Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
ATHENS — Adversity affects many different people in many different ways. Some crumble, some attempt to distance themselves and some, like Morgan Geno, use it as a motivator.
If you know Geno’s story, you know the type of adversity she’s went through … and you also know how she’s responded on each occurrence.
Geno is widely considered as one of the best softball prospects to ever come out of the Scioto Valley. The Zane Trace alum has spent her last three years helping Ohio University’s softball program compile an overall record of 119-58, three straight conference championship appearances and a 2018 MAC title.
During this past offseason, Geno’s teammates voted her as a co-captain alongside roommate Michaela Dorsey. But since signing to play with the Bobcats way back in November 2014, her journey to success has featured its fair share of twists and turns.
“One of my biggest things that I like about myself is that adversity isn’t something that hits me in the face. It’s something that I can get through,” Geno said. “We have to do what we have to do to get through it. We take things how they come and do what we can with them. That’s been the last four years of my life. You just have to enjoy the ride.”
You’d have to revisit Geno’s senior year of high school to find her first unexpected detour. After a junior season where she went 14-5 with a 0.88 ERA in the pitcher’s circle, Geno suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined her for most of the season.
“I didn’t expect to tear my shoulder up but I got through it. Now I’m a better person for it. That injury helped me so much as a person, as rough as it was,” Geno said.
Geno underwent surgery so that she could return to the circle and, after a long and tedious rehabilitation process, she did just that. As a freshman, she appeared in eight games for the Bobcats, going 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA in 17 ⅓ innings pitched.
That momentum continued into her sophomore year … but then another setback happened.
“Three weeks before the MAC Championship, I broke my wrist,” Geno said. “I had another surgery and got medically disqualified. It was a pain to where I couldn’t sleep at night.”
After a second surgery, Geno returned to the doctor before going through therapy for close to a year. The following January, she started throwing progression programs and started to pitch again … but something was different.
“I wasn’t at 100 percent at all with the speed and everything, and still having a lot of pain,” Geno said. “I kept trying to get back and was waiting for that moment to get stronger. I eventually went back to the doctor and called it quits.”
Geno had known pitching like the back of her hand for as long as she could remember. Then, all of the sudden, it was gone. While the physical pain started to evaporate, the mental effects began to set in as the Bobcats asked her to go from pitcher to designated hitter.
It was a challenge she accepted but one she also had to get used to.
“It’s hard not to miss pitching. Definitely the hardest thing, getting away from pitching, was remembering how it felt before I got hurt,” Geno said. “You get that adrenaline rush and when you’re unable to do it, it’s the hardest part of the transition. I was the team’s DH freshman through junior year and I had to be mentally tough. That’s all you do. I was used to being a hitter and a pitcher. I switched to just a designated hitter and you have three, maybe four, at-bats per game. So you have to be all in every single time.”
Last season, one where Ohio finished 40-17 overall before losing to Tennessee in the NCAA Regionals, Geno hit .254 with nine home runs, 28 RBIs and a .415 on-base percentage.
The Bobcats also won the MAC Tournament Championship, beating Northern Illinois 2-0 in the title game. When the season ended, the team needed two new leaders. That’s when they turned to Geno and Dorsey.
“We were voted as captains during the end-of-the-year meeting. It’s a position that I’ve worked for and it was an honor,” Geno said. “This summer, a week before we were supposed to get back, we lost all four coaches. [Former head coach Jodi Hermanek] went to Pittsburgh. That’s when that captain role had to kick in because we were coming back to school with no one to guide the program. It took a few weeks to welcome our new coach and her staff and we had to have our team buy into it. It was challenging but it’s been so worth it in the long run.”
Losing Hermanek was just another dose of adversity. Geno handled it as she usually does: in stride.
The university announced the hiring of Kenzie Roark to replace Hermanek on Aug. 25. After Geno and Dorsey guided their teammates through the transition, Geno was asked to make yet another change.
She’ll be starting at first base for the first time this spring … and she’s prepared to give it her all.
“My mindset has changed a little bit because I’m playing first base this year,” Geno said. “So it’s been a learning process all fall. But it’s been fun. My mindset it pretty much, ‘This is it. This is my last ride. I want to leave it all out there.’ I know that’s cliche but softball has been my life since I was eight years old. Now I only have a few months left and I want to enjoy the ride.”
With Roark at the helm, and a mixed cast of veterans and newcomers, Geno says the expectations haven’t changed in Athens. Winning a MAC title and making a postseason run are still goals at the top of the Bobcats’ list.
It isn’t a year dedicated to rebuilding, but instead one that’s dedicated to reloading.
“In my three years, I’ve made it to the MAC Championship every single year. So that’s nothing new and we know what it takes to get there. I don’t think we’re going to skip a beat,” Geno said. “We expect to be in the NCAA Regionals again and to build off of that. But I don’t think we’re going to take a step back. Our new coaches are great and they have come in and haven’t changed anything. They’re just building off the success that we’ve been having.”
And rest assured, one of the Bobcats’ newest captains won’t forget her journey to this point.
“Being able to turn what should’ve been a career-ending injury into four more years of playing softball, I’m blessed to say the least,” she said. “I hope when my last game comes, I just hope I can say that I’ve gave it my all.”
Geno, who plans to get her Master’s Degree in Special Education, will be getting married in July. But first, before another chapter of her life begins, she has to write the rest of her softball saga.
Her final ride begins on Feb. 8 in Kennesaw, Ga. against Eastern Illinois in the Phyllis Rafter Memorial. The Bobcats are slated to play their first home game on March 22 against Bowling Green.
Their first baseman has one last chance to show that, even through the tallest waves of adversity, lifelong dreams can still be obtained.
“I hope that I’ve inspired little girls out there that want to reach their dreams. I’m from a small town like Kinnikinnick and I’m a Division I athlete playing at the highest level,” she said. “They can do the same. I just want to have a peaceful ending with it. College has treated me well. It’ll be hard to say goodbye at first but I want to keep giving back and to my community.”