WOMEN’S SPOTLIGHT: Long-time basketball coach from Stanly retires
She got her start in Locust coaching the boys’ team, and despite never straying far from Stanly County went on to become the winningest women’s basketball coach at two-different college institutions.
Angie Crayton Morton, who has been coaching since the mid-1980s, announced her retirement before the beginning of the current college basketball season from her head coaching post at Catawba College. Her retirement wrapped up a long career coaching athletics in Stanly and Rowan counties, including seven season at Pfeiffer University.
Formula For Success
Morton attributed her win totals to longevity of coaching, saying at both Pfeiffer and Catawba she “wasn’t trying to advance and move up. I wanted to stay home close to family.”
Throughout her career, Morton said it’s the people who stand out the most, especially the players and coaches.
“It’s who you surround yourself with and I had so many great relationships with coaches and players,” Morton said.
She added she could not have made it without the support of the administrations of both schools along with having “very supportive communities” at Pfeiffer and Catawba.
Having consistent success has many components to it, Morton explained, with recruiting as one big factor in her career.
“You have to be willing to call people and watch them play; you have to see the potential in people,” Morton said.
Skill development is important, but Morton said what is most important is motivating people.
“You have to get people to want to play for you and play well,” Morton said.
Recruiting at both Pfeiffer and Catawba was never easy, she said, noting any coach at either school will not get “top-tier players,” but she always looked for those players who worked the hardest.
“You find team players who will buy into the team concept. They’ll work hard for you,” Morton said.
Game planning and scouting was what she enjoyed doing the most, Morton said, adding it was her strong suit.
“I like being able to watch someone and see how I can stop them,” Morton said. “I can’t watch basketball as a fan; I watch as a coach. I can’t even watch as a parent when my kids played.”
She also credited her husband, Randy Morton, for her success as well. Saying he is her “best supporter” she “had to miss a lot” and “if it were not for him, I couldn’t have done it.”
The time was right for retirement, Morton said, noting the large amount of time and energy it takes to coach.
“When it comes to the point I can’t give (coaching) everything it deserves, (it’s time to) step down,” Morton said on knowing when to retire. She added it was time to put her family first.
A West Stanly graduate, Morton played basketball and ran track for two years for the Colts. Her last two years she played tennis and softball as well. The sports came to the school as part of the Title IX movement which opened the opportunities for female athletes across the country.
Morton went on to play softball and basketball at Catawba, finishing her softball career as a .367 hitter with nine home runs and 74 RBIs. She also played in 86 basketball games for the Indians, averaging 5.5 points per contest.
Staying close after graduating from Catawba in 1984 meant coaching first at Knox Middle School for two seasons. After marrying Randy Morton, she moved back to Stanly and coached the Locust boys from 1986-88.
Morton remembered fondly her time at Locust, saying her boys were in the championship in a game at Pfeiffer.
“We didn’t win, but we played our country hearts out,” Morton said.
At the game, Morton recalled looking around inside Merner Gym, thinking maybe one day she might be able to coach for Pfeiffer.
Eventually, Morton spent eight seasons as the women’s coach at West Stanly High School. The Colts made the playoffs for eight straight seasons and she won Rocky River Conference Coach of the Year in 1992.
Making the Move Up
Morton never was going to move her family, which made her unique among those in a profession known to often relocate families.
“I was very lucky; I kind of knew what I wanted. God opened up all those doors,” Morton said.
One of those doors opened in 1995. Morton coached at Pfeiffer University as an assistant for Jack Ingram’s softball squad. The connection came from a Catawba teammate, Angie Elwood, who was at Pfeiffer at the time.
“That’s how it all started (at Pfeiffer),” Morton said.
Eventually, she coached three sports at Pfeiffer simultaneously, in charge of volleyball, women’s basketball and softball. Morton settled in on coaching basketball and softball, earning Coach of the Year from the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference for softball in 2000.
She coached the Pfeiffer women’s basketball team for seven seasons with a record of 98-91, the most in school history, 33 more wins than the next closest in the program’s history, Jill Thomas. Morton led Pfeiffer to its first NCAA Div. II playoff game and earned Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference women’s basketball Coach of the Year in 2003-04 when the Falcons went 24-5 overall.
One Future College Coach
One of her former players, 1,000-point club member Shannon Reid, talked about Morton as a coach, saying she first met her when being recruited. Pfeiffer came on to Reid’s radar because of a former high school teammate, Amanda Joplin. Joplin went on to finish sixth overall on the all-time scoring list at Pfeiffer with 1,439 points.
“I was looking for a place I could go and play…(for a) coach I could get along with,” Reid said.
She had received offers from Belmont Abbey and USC-Upstate yet said she really wanted to play for the Falcons, but did not hear back from Morton.
“I didn’t her from her right away. We emailed back and forth; she said she needed a point guard, but I was more of a wing,” Reid said.
Reid had a good workout for Morton during the recruiting process and said she was intrigued by why the Pfeiffer coach did not want her. On a visit, she saw how “the players respected her” and Morton’s nurturing ways made the team feel more like a family.
Finally, Reid said she got an email from Morton with the subject line: “Don’t go anywhere else.”
Morton took a chance on Reid and it paid dividends. Reid transferred in as a sophomore and went on to finish ninth all-time in points at Pfeiffer with 1,168. Reid played the point and was All-Conference her junior season.
While Morton was nurturing off the court, Reid said, she “would go after you in practice.” However, she said, the coach always followed it up with a meeting with a player.
“There weren’t cellphones in those days; she called the dorm room…she would be real with you,” Reid said, calling it “tough love up front, but with a follow-up.”
Reid said Morton created a good vibe and culture with the team and “players enjoyed her” as the coach.
Reid went on to coach for eight seasons at Brevard. This season, Reid will take the helm of the Erskine Fleet women’s basketball program in the conference in which she played and Morton coached.
Reid said Morton “was the epitome of hard work” and that many of the drills she uses in her career came from Morton.
When Reid applied for the Erskine job, her first call for advice was to Morton.
“She’s always the person I go to for that,” Reid said. “She’s a steady hand; someone I can lean on. She prays for me, talks to me and helps me when times are hard.”
Faith was also important for Morton, Reid explained. A devotional Reid received from the former Pfeiffer coach the first year she coached at Brevard is one she still has and uses with her team.
The final chapter of Morton’s coaching career came from former Pfeiffer athletic director Paul Childress, who got Morton’s foot into the door at her alma mater.
Following on the heels of two 20-win seasons at Pfeiffer, Morton became the Catawba head women’s basketball coach, where she would remain for the next 15 seasons. She coached the Indians to 238 wins after taking over in 2003 and had 13 seasons where Catawba finished at or beyond the .500 mark in wins. She was named the 2012 South Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year.
One former assistant for Morton directly took over her responsibilities upon her retirement. Terrance Baxter, whose playing career included becoming a member of the Pfeiffer men’s basketball 1,00o-point club under head coach Dave Davis, served on Morton’s coaching staff for the Indians since 2013 and was the associate head coach the past three seasons.
Baxter first saw Morton as a coach from the periphery when she coached and he played at Pfeiffer. He said she “held players accountable which was one of the biggest things I took from her…she commanded players to play with respect for the game.”
According to Baxter, Morton often spoke with Davis, himself a three-time Conference Coach of the Year and the East Region Coach of the Year in 2003-04 in his time with the Falcons’ men’s program.
“She got a lot from him; it made it easier for me to work with her. The groundwork was the same we put in as players,” Baxter said.
The new Catawba head coach said both Davis and Morton ran similiar systems on the floor “built on toughness, spreading the floor” and “picking up the pace on defense.”
Baxter said part of Morton’s legacy, which can be seen in what many of her former players are doing now, came from her relationship with God.
“She let her relationship with God control her team…she was a Godly woman leading women and led in a Godly manner,” Baxter said.
He estimated while he worked on her staff at least 25 to 30 former players called back to thank her for the lessons they learned while under her tutelage.
“She led in a Godly manner through basketball. She was a great leader and better person. If I had a problem, she would be the first person I would call on to talk. She can be honest and down the middle; she led without judgement,” Baxter said.
The Coaching Tree
Like so many coaches in basketball with a measure of long-term success, Morton’s influence can still be found today by a number of her former players who are now in the coaching ranks.
Former player Brooke Misenheimer Stouder has become a successful high school women’s basketball coach in Rowan County, building a program literally from the ground up.
Stouder helped start the program at Jesse Carson High School and has been the coach for 13 seasons.
She said one reason she wanted to play at Pfeiffer was she wanted to play for Morton.
“Once I got to know her when she was recruiting me, I felt like I wanted to play for this woman. She was easy to make a connection with, genuine,” Stouder said.
In building the Tigers’ program up, Stouder said she was able for her relationship with Morton to change from player-coach to coach-coach. Her Carson team attended offseason camps at Catawba and played in the Sam Moir holiday basketball tournament hosted by the Indians.
“She tells you that coaching is a calling at its best. You do it as long as you’re called to do it…you put so much time, energy, effort into it. If it’s not what God wants you to be doing, you’re spending a lot of time for no reason,” Stouder said.
Stouder also said one of Morton’s best qualities was her quick-witted personality.
“She would pick those perfect moments in practice to drive home a point through being funny, sarcasm,” Stouder said. She added Morton said as a coach “you have to be yourself.”
The Carson program went from four wins 13 years ago to a 25-4 mark last season, finishing tied for the conference regular season title while winning the conference tournament crown for the first time in school history.
A Lasting Legacy
Many of Morton’s former players and assistant coaches echoed the same sentiments about what her legacy will be as a coach.
“I consider her my friend; she was at my wedding. I still want to check in with her and share the big moments of my life. She’s someone I trust and an opinion I completely respect,” Strouder said.
The new Catawba coach, Baxter, said “if you only knew her on the (basketball) floor you would never think she would have (a nice) demeanor. When she left the game, she left the coach on the floor and became a mom to her kids…she was definitely hands-on off the court,” Baxter said.
Reid said Morton was definitely a mentor to her and others, saying “she has made an impact on pretty much everyone who played for her spiritually by being a good example and mentor to women.”
“It was great to be part of their lives,” Morton added.
Sports Editor’s Note: The Salisbury Post contributed to this article.