WHEELERSBURG — Morgan Bivens was a one-of-a-kind goalkeeper in four years with Wheelersburg’s girls soccer program.
It’s only fitting that her official signing ceremony on Tuesday was that way as well.
That’s because Bivens, following four standout seasons as the Lady Pirates’ starting keeper, officially announced her intention to play collegiate soccer at Kentucky Christian University — joining the Lady Knights of the NAIA and head coach Devin Johnson.
Bivens, because the Wheelersburg school district is closed like ALL others in Ohio due to the threat of the coronavirus, conducted her official commitment announcement electronically — through the audio and video conferencing mechanism named Zoom.
Usually, it’s a gathering of family, friends, coaches and teammates at the high school —putting pen to paperwork and simply signing on the dotted line before faxing.
But with Wheelersburg’s AND Kentucky Christian’s campuses closed, Bivens and her family decided digital was the way to go.
She said KCU had that hometown feel for her, whereas Ohio Christian University and the University of Rio Grande —despite expressing interest as well — “weren’t the right fits for me”.
“We were trying to get the paperwork done, but with the college closed, we worked it out where we could use Zoom meeting and I could sign my papers through e-mail. It’s not the traditional signing with all the people in the same room, but it meant more to me because it was unique and special,” she said, in a telephone interview. “I was glad that my immediate family was all here to be a part of it and that meant so much. It was right here at home, and that’s what Kentucky Christian feels like. It’s a home away from home for me. The girls on the team made me feel so welcome when I visited.”
And, Bivens was a welcome addition to the Lady Pirates in goal — having not even played in junior high.
Todd Jarvis, the veteran Wheelersburg coach, talked to her about coming out after missing two years.
She also worked with then-assistant coach Mollie King, who was named in March as the new Northwest girls soccer head coach.
“I took two years off and Coach Jarvis came to me about playing. I was like ‘oh my God, what do I do’ and I hadn’t played goalkeeper before. That position was open. But I am a competitive person and I wanted to win that spot and so I worked hard full-go for it. Coach and all the girls were so supportive of me and pushed me to make myself a better me and a better player,” she said. “My team is a second family. We win together and lose together.”
Truth be told, the Lady Pirates won much more than they lost.
With Bivens starting every single solitary match of her entire career, the Lady Pirates posted a stellar four-year record of 67-7-4 —with three Southern Ohio Conference championships and three Division III district championships in her first three seasons.
In the regional semifinals her sophomore and junior campaigns, Wheelersburg was one goal away (1-0 loss to Lynchburg-Clay in 2017 and 2-1 loss to Alexander in 2018) from an Elite Eight appearance.
As a senior, she and the Lady Pirates shared the SOC championship with Waverly —and competed as a Division II program for the first time.
She was a two-time first-team all-SOC and first-team all-Southeast District selection her final two years, including the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.
Bivens was also bestowed Division II second-team all-Ohio accolades as a senior, collecting 10 shutouts on the year — part of 40 for her entire career, which is tied for 10th all-time in the Ohio High School Athletic Association girls record-book for most career clean sheets.
Her four-year goal against average clip — less than one goal (.9) per match.
But the best match of her career was undoubtedly against Athens in this season’s Division II sectional semifinals.
It was her final affair on the home turf at Ed Miller Stadium, and Bivens blanked the visiting Lady Bulldogs through 110 minutes of action —two 40-minute halves followed by two 15-minute sudden-death overtime periods.
“Against Athens, we were nervous. We knew how fast they were and how good defensively they were, and all I could think about was making sure I didn’t let a ball go in the net. And for 40 minutes in the first half and again in the second half, we held them scoreless. Then it hit me with the sudden-death overtime. I thought that this could be it, this could be my last game, but I decided I’m doing my part to make sure we are not losing that night, and that was everyone’s mentality,” she said.
Then, following the two no-blood drawn overtimes, Bivens began prepping herself for her first-ever penalty-kicks shootout.
“I was just so nervous in the shootout since I’ve never done one. But my team had my back,” she said.
But Bivens didn’t disappoint, bagging the biggest save of her career on Athens’ initial attempt.
Caroline Brandes was first up for the Lady Bulldogs, and attempted to beat Bivens at her lower right.
But Bivens blocked the shot, going to her knees and knocking it away with her hands.
It was the final of her nine saves, and it allowed Wheelersburg — at the minimum — to maintain kick-for-kick.
Later on, with the shootout tied at 3-3, Athens junior Sophia Atherton’s attempt sailed high over the crossbar —and out of Bivens’ reach.
Finally, on the final of the 10-shot round, Wheelersburg freshman Annie Coriell kicked in the winner — giving Bivens the victory in her final home tilt.
“To win that match, my final one at home, it was the best feeling in the world,” she said. “That’s the most memorable match.”
But, perhaps the best is still ahead of Bivens, according to Jarvis.
“The Lady Pirate program is excited to see Morgan sign with KCU. She liked what the program offered and the approach Coach (Devin) Johnson has towards soccer. Morgan started four years for us as keeper. It was a role she volunteered to do in the beginning, but she became a force in goal. Her work ethic and natural ability helped her to a great career with us,” said the coach. “To watch her develop throughout her career was great and now she gets to continue to play soccer in college. A well-deserved opportunity. We wish her well and look forward to seeing her wearing the KCU colors.”
Of course, Bivens was recruited to the Lady Knights as a goalkeeper — and she still has plenty to improve upon at the position.
“I need to get better in a few areas,” she said. “I tend to forget communication with my back line. In goal, I see the field better than anyone else, but my back line in front of me is the only thing between me and the ball coming right at me. I need to communicate more and work on my goal kicks more. I need to develop my leg for my punts. And just being a better team leader. As a keeper, you just make sure the team is on the same page helping everybody out.”
She certainly helped out the Lady Pirates for four falls, and will continue to do that on-the-pitch — as well as off — as a Lady Knight.
She plans to major in Social Work, which is another reason Kentucky Christian appeared attractive.
Bivens also expressed interest in coaching soccer someday.
“The (academic) program I’m going into was another draw to KCU for me, and I’m excited about making new connections and friendships there with my new teammates. That really inspires me as I go to the next level. Playing soccer has become a passion and I want to keep learning the game, and maybe one day I’ll be a coach,” she said. “There exists in me a drive to be pushed to be better, and I look forward to that happening at KCU.”
No doubt, Bivens was, is and likely will be a one-of-a-kind keeper.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved