She’s back! Former New London all-stater and one of the most dominant high school athletes of the last five years is a Tiger again, this time donning the Iowa Wesleyan purple.
Morgan Christner was nearly untouchable in her five years as the starting pitcher for the New London softball team. After appearing in 22 games as an eighth-grader, Christner jumped to superstar status her freshman year, taking over as starting pitcher and finishing the year with a 1.34 ERA. Christner carried the bulk of the Tiger pitching load over the next four years, leading the Tigers to three state tournaments.
After high school, Christner went Division 1, pitching at Illinois State University, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. She finished second on the team with a 2.95 ERA her freshman year, but saw a dip in playing time the next season, prompting her to look for other options.
“When I was there, I had an awesome experience. I met some of my best friends,” Christner said of Illinois State. “But it was really political, and I wasn’t getting to play as much as I would like. I just kind of started looking elsewhere, and I wanted to be closer to home. Of course, being from New London, Iowa Wesleyan is close.”
Christner says the overwhelming nature of being at a D1 school just wasn’t quite for her.
“Everything is bigger, and different, and softball is your life 24/7, every day, every hour,” Christner says. “Even if it’s not practice, you would have study tables or that kind of thing. It was just really time-consuming.”
Needless to say, a Missouri Valley school is plenty different than New London, a school that plays in Iowa’s smallest class in every sport. Christner says she needed a change, and to find a place more like home.
“At first, I honestly just thought about being done with softball and just kind of being a student and finishing my two years of college that way,” says Christner. “But softball has been my life since I’ve been eight years old, and I didn’t really want to end my career just being done that way.”
The 2017 graduate first talked to Assistant Coach Ben Fry, who is entering his second year as a coach. Fry, like Christner, is a New London native, and also a volunteer coach for the Tiger football team, which won the eight-man state championship this fall.
“He kind of started the whole thing and just talked about Iowa Wesleyan and told me it would be a lot different, more relaxed,” says Christner. “After that, that’s when Coach Hampton kind of reached out.”
Christner is just what the doctor ordered for IW. The Tigers are coming off the departure of Samantha McIlwain, who finished her Tiger career last spring. McIlwain finished her time at IW with 451 strikeouts, making her the all-time record holder at the University. Christner, and fellow freshman Emma McDanel, of Moravia, have stepped in to replace McIlwain in the circle.
Christner’s senior year of high school was nearly completely upended by an ACL tear suffered at the beginning of basketball season. In a preseason jamboree held at IW, Christner went down on a fastbreak layup attempt and was sidelined for the entirety of basketball season and what could have been the entire year of softball.
“As soon as it happened, the first thought was that I wanted to be back for softball,” she recalls. “Especially because it was my senior year, and the girls on my team, we were so close. We had been playing together for so long. It was just really important for me to get back, and honestly it was a really big motivator.”
After not being expected to return to the circle, Christner worked her way back, and although she wasn’t 100 percent, she started 29 games and helped the Tigers end their season, and her career, at the state tournament in Ft. Dodge. Christner says that setback is now in her rear-view mirror.
“It’s always going to be in the back of my mind,” she says, “but when I start playing and start practicing, it’s not really something I think about anymore.”
Christner says she doesn’t think she had ever been to an IW softball game before this year, but that she was ready for the new opportunities the University presents to her. One of those opportunities is to get back in the batter’s box. Christner hit over .400 in four of her five years at New London, eclipsing .500 twice. She led the team in RBIs in each of her five years, and tallied 14 home runs throughout her high school career.
“I just got a brand new bat, so that’s exciting,” Christner exclaimed. “At first, I was a little nervous, just because when you haven’t hit for two years, it’s something that I was a little nervous about. I’ve had to put in a little extra time with it, but I’m really excited about that.”
The junior elementary education major has already made her mark through six games at IW. She started the Tigers’ very first game of the year, throwing a complete-game one-hit shutout, which included 15 strikeouts and only one walk. She also recorded a three-hit shutout on Tuesday, striking out 12 of her 18 batters faced.
The IW softball team won just seven games last season, though five of them were in conference play. Christner and McDanel have looked good in the circle so far, and an offensive explosion hasn’t hurt their cause. The Tigers are averaging just under seven runs-per-game so far. Christner has been right in the middle of the lineup for all six games.
Christner says part of her time back in Henry County has been spent keeping up with New London sports. She was able to catch a few basketball games this winter, and followed the state-ranked Tiger boys’ basketball team particularly closely. IW home games staart on March 27, so who knows how many New London faces will be on hand to watch their former star work.
“A lot,” Christner predicts. “I expect a lot.”