Morgan Fisher ’16, Williston’s girls varsity hockey goalie, achieved a major breakthrough in her sport when she was invited to play with the U-18 National Team in Lake Placid, New York, this past summer. She competed against some of the best hockey players on the planet in her age group, and she learned a lot of important lessons along the way. In this interview she shares some of her most memorable experiences from the U.S.A. camp, and her strategies to achieve elite performance.
When did you start playing hockey, and when did it become an important part of your life?
My dad taught me to skate when I was five. He would take me to open ice sessions before school. From there I started playing hockey competitively with the boys team in my town, which was really cool because it gave me a competitive feeling. The boys game was up-tempo so I had to be that much more aware in net. That experience helped me a lot when I transitioned to the girls’ game.
What was your practice schedule like, and how has it changed over time?
When I was younger I used to go to my local rink during stick time, which was from 6-7 a.m. My dad and I would go there with a bucket of pucks, or I would do some skating drills. I just had fun because when you’re little you don’t want to focus so hard on one thing or else you won’t love it. Sometimes my friends would come and we would make a game out of it. When I got a little older, I started training with my local club team, the Connecticut Polar Bears, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but the next morning I would jump out of bed for stick time with my dad. That was my time to have fun and be me. I could do whatever I wanted, and I always looked forward to it.
Now it is pretty much always hockey season for me. There is never an off-season; you’re always training. You have to get an edge on your competitors. If you’re not working, you can be sure your opponent is working. It is expected that you get better at every U.S.A. camp, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if it is one more pull up, or a few more pounds to your bench. You just need to get better because the coaches always wanted to see progress. I train every day of the week. I am in the weight room four-to-five days a week and on my days off I work on my mental game. The mental game is a really important for a goalie because you have to stay focused and keep your consistency, so it is a really big part of my game.
What are the most important aspects of your training that allowed you to achieve such a high level of success in hockey?
I train my brain all the time. I think the mental side of the game is the biggest part of my success, and it has helped me reach my full potential. Visualization is a big part of my training. I go in my room, close my eyes, and visualize simple plays, like saving a shot and redirecting it into the corner, like I am supposed to do. Then I visualize harder plays, like one-on-ones and two-on-ones, and I go through the motions of how I would handle each particular situation. I really focus on making a simple and effective play. Then I visualize big saves in important moments of the game so it is not overwhelming when they actually happen. Visualization takes away pressure so I can stay focused.
For my physical preparation, U.S.A. Hockey gives us a four-day workout that all junior Olympians are expected to complete. I know that I have to be diligent even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed; I have to workout before school because all of my time after school is packed. I have to be at the gym at 6:30 a.m. to complete my workout before classes start. Getting up early is part of what it takes.
Who inspires you to be at your best?
Definitely my dad. He was on the bench for every team I ever played for growing up, and he is the driving force in everything that I do. A few years ago I told him my goals, which are: to play for UConn, and I am committed there now, and to be a part of the U.S.A. Hockey program, and I am. He told me to put my heart and mind towards anything I wanted to accomplish, and now I feel that I can accomplish anything.
What did it feel like to train at Lake Placid this summer? What did you take away from the experience?
When I got the phone call that I made the 66 camp, which is the top 66 players in the country for my age group, my jaw dropped. At that moment I realized that what my dad told me was true, I could do anything I set my mind to. Working every day to achieve that goal was hard, but it was well worth it. I saw all of my heroes on Team U.S.A.: Hillary Knight, Jessie Vetter, and Meghan Duggan. I got to train alongside them and live in the same dorm. I got to pick their brains about how they made it to the top, and I realized that we all had the same stories about hard work and sacrifice.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
Meghan Duggan, Team U.S.A.’s captain, shared this quote with me at the beginning of the 66 camp: “No one is you, and that is your power.” That hit home with me, and I realized that I was there for a reason; the coaches chose me to be there. All I had to do was focus on being who I am, and that took away all of my nerves. And then I moved on to Lake Placid with U-18 National Team, which was the best feeling ever.
Do you have any pre-game strategies to perform at your best?
When I was training at Lake Placid I got to hang out all week with Jessie Vetter, and I learned about how she prepares for a game. She doesn’t blow anything out of proportion. She just focuses on being herself and does what she has to do. As a result, she is so consistent, and I aspire to be like her so I try to prepare for games the same way that she does.
What do you think about during a game?
I try to relieve all stress. Before a game I get pumped up, but if you’re over aggressive, you can mess up. Usually I play a song in my head, and I tell myself that I know how to make all the simple saves. As long as I track the puck, and do what I am capable of doing, then everything is going to go well. Nothing weird is going to happen, and I don’t have to put in more effort than I normally do. I mean, some flukes do happen, but I just brush them off and look forward to the next shot.
How do you deal with setbacks?
The selection process was very rigorous. Each region of the country has separate tryouts where the best players are selected for the national camp. Each year I got shut down from the 66 camp, and that was tough for me, but last year I was determined to make it. I kept telling myself, “I am going to make it.” I used to go into the U.S.A. Hockey tryouts with the mentality that I had to do so much better than I normally do, but last year I realized that I don’t have to try harder than I normally do. As long as I put in 100 percent effort, I should be fine. I didn’t have to try to be someone else, and so I didn’t have the weight of thinking, “Why am I not like that girl who made the team.” If you’re worried about others, it takes your focus away from yourself. Coming to that realization helped me play my best. You have to stay positive with yourself because it helps you perform at your best.
How has your experience at Williston helped you become a stronger student-athlete?
My parents promised each other that I would apply to boarding school, and when I arrived at Williston, I felt that it was the best fit ever. I love this school. Coach Talbot-Syfu really helped me focus in on what I had to do to reach my goals. One of the things she always told me was control the controllables, so that has really helped my game. Everything at Williston has helped me become a better student-athlete. Before I came here I wasn’t the best student, but now I am always ahead on my schoolwork. I get A’s and high B’s, and it has kind of become effortless for me because I am now wired to work this hard.
What can Williston students learn from your accomplishments?
Seriously, just be who you are. Williston offers the environment for you to be yourself, and that is going to help you reach your full potential. I mean this both academically and athletically. Williston had helped me understand that my work ethic is what is going to help me reach my full potential.