Basketball was always for fun.
And softball was fun while it lasted.
But it's soccer that will provide Morgan Darling her kicks for the next four years.
That's why the multi-sport standout turned her athletic focus primarily to the pitch this winter after splitting time as evenly as she could between soccer and basketball during her first three years at Bullard High.
The payoff for the San Diego State-bound senior was a 26-goal, 18-assist season that propelled the Knights to the County/Metro Athletic Conference girls soccer title and a semifinal finish in the Central Section Division I playoffs, while still being a member -- although an infrequent contributor -- to Bullard's 21-6, D-I semifinalist basketball team.
"It was fun to have connections with two different sports and two different types of teammates," said Darling, The Bee's girls soccer Player of the Year. "I definitely didn't want to give up basketball. That's why I kept doing it, even though I knew I was probably going to college for soccer."
Before getting to high school, Darling was one of the best youth softball players in the area and viewed as a likely college recruit. But she grew tired of softball and the summer travel ball circuit.
Around the same time, she made it into the Olympic Development Program in soccer for the first time, making the regional pool and getting invited to a national camp.
From there, her passion for soccer blossomed.
"That got me to thinking how competitive I could be in soccer, which got me to see I could play soccer in college," Darling said. "I always played soccer, but it wasn't my favorite sport. Now I love soccer. It's one of my biggest passions. Without the game, I'd definitely be lost."
Bullard coach Onesta Francis said a blend of technical skills and physical gifts makes Darling, in his opinion, "the most talented player in the Valley this year."
Francis added that it's no surprise Darling is headed to one of the nation's top women's soccer programs -- the Aztecs were No. 7 in the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings -- given her speed, strength, great dribbling skills and ability to shoot with power from different angles.
"Outside of her skill set, which is creative and very good, she's also got timing for the dramatic," Francis said. "She can come up with big stuff in a big situation.
"She's just one of those players who's fun to watch. She's got an incredible sense of style to the way she plays, almost like a Brazilian type of player. A lot of Americans are more in the German and English mold. But her basketball background gave her point guard instincts."
Player of the Year
The résumé: The County/Metro Athletic Conference MVP contributed team-leading totals of 26 goals and 18 assists while leading the Knights to a 19-4-1 record, a league title and a semifinal finish in the Central Section Division I playoffs. The four-year varsity soccer and basketball player has signed to play soccer for San Diego State, which finished last season ranked seventh in the nation.
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