Two blonde french braids neatly sat on the head of goalkeeper Morgan Bertsch as she gazed from the Titans’ bench for three years, hoping that she’d get a chance to mess them up by guarding the net.
Instead, she collected dust.
Former Titans goalkeeper Jennifer Stuart dominated the net and took all the minutes on the pitch. But while Stuart collected accolades, Bertsch patiently waited for her moment to show she was capable of the same greatness.
When Stuart graduated, the 2017 team looked to the confident Bertsch to guard the backline, and after earning two Big West Player of the Week recognitions, making the all-conference first team, creating a split for Goalkeeper of the Year and becoming the Big West MVP, Bertsch has broken out of the shadows and claimed the goal posts as her own.
Christina Burkenroad, a former Titans forward currently playing for Norway’s IK Grand Bodø, wasn’t surprised at Bertsch’s success this season.
“To watch her fight for five years and see how well she’s doing now is just amazing to see. I’m so excited for her, and I know all her success is well deserved,” Burkenroad said via email.
Despite only showing her potential in the box late in collegiate play, Bertsch’s achievements began even before her college career. Dating back as far as elementary school, she’s always strived to be a better version of herself.
“I was always competitive,” Bertsch said. “My mom was super competitive, and that was instilled in me. I wanted to make it to the highest level I could get to.”
As with many players on the Titans’ roster, Bertsch came prepared with several years of experience, but it was not the first sport she loved.
Bertsch began her athletic career in elementary school as a goalie for her hockey team. It was at one of the matches where Hugh Donald, Valley United head coach, recognized the talent Bertsch held and invited her to join a soccer club team.
“The club coach had picked me up the first day of practice,” Bertsch said. “He just stuck me in the goal, and I have been there ever since.”
Although she played just a few seasons before switching from an ice rink to a grass field, Bertsch had no problem adjusting to the new environment.
“It was a smooth transition over, as far as quick feet, quick reactions,” Bertsch said.
Thriving off the adrenaline of being goalkeeper, Bertsch didn’t look twice into other positions as she felt it was where she belonged.
“I really get this thrill in the net,” Bertsch said. “Many people say ‘You have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper,’ and when you think about it logically, you’re like ‘OK yeah kind of.’ Just for me, it’s not even a second thought.”
After adapting to her surroundings, she knew that soccer was going to be her sport, and a path she wanted to pursue farther than a club or high school.
“I had people saying, ‘Oh you could just play D2,’ and I knew inside ‘I think I could be a D1 player and I could play there,’” Bertsch said.
The goalkeeper played with the Simi Valley Eclipse for six years before moving to Valley United for her final four years of club soccer.
She contributed to the four championships her club team won in 2010-13, and her efforts in high school did not go unnoticed. In her junior year she nabbed the Marmonte League MVP.
Titans Head Coach Demian Brown noticed Bertsch’s athleticism and saw something the Titans needed.
“Her ability to play the ball from either a punt or from the ground at a distance was something that we didn’t see in a lot of youth goalkeepers,” Brown said.
Bertsch joined the Titans in 2014, and would come in as a backup goalkeeper to the then starter, Stuart, but Brown saw it as an opportunity to groom her into the position until the moment she would take over.
Her natural talent was obvious, which led the Titans to recruit her, but Brown needed Bertsch to develop something aside from technique – a commanding voice.
“In our training camp of her freshman year, she was caught being quiet,” Brown said. “She should be the voice of everything that happens in the back and be able to give instruction in front of her.”
Her freshman to junior years may seem like a blur to anyone who looks into the women’s soccer program, but upon further inspection, Bertsch gave glimpses of her new skills and knowledge.
As a freshman, she gave the 2014 squad a shutout win against Cal State Northridge and appeared seven times that season, including five starts.
The following year, Bertsch produced another shutout win in her eight appearances. She also got her first taste of the postseason when she was placed in the net for the penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA tournament game against USC.
Although the Titans were eliminated, the loss contributed greatly to Bertsch’s growing experience and made her strive to do better.
“She is what we would consider a soccer junkie,” Brown said. “When we have an opportunity to coach athletes like that, it’s quite easy because the things we talk about as a coach they can usually see faster because of the involvement of being a fan of soccer.”
But in the 2016 season, Bertsch spent the majority of her time on the sidelines, observing and learning from Stuart, waiting for her moment to arrive.
“Being a goalkeeper isn’t easy. Unlike all the field positions, there’s only one goalkeeper, and typically you don’t sub them,” Burkenroad said.
With Stuart departing from Titan Stadium for good at the end of 2016, it was finally Bertsch’s chance to take over the starting role and become the voice of the Titans’ defense. She started in all 22 games in 2017 and was first in the Big West with a 0.75 percent goal-against average.
She collected five conference awards in her senior year, all of which recognized the motivation she displayed since she first joined the program.
“She’s been ready to perform for a long time, and I think the only things that ever stopped her from anything was herself, mentally. From year one though, she pushed herself to get to where she is now,” Burkenroad said.
Bertsch led the Titans to their seventh Big West Conference championship title after blocking two shots in the penalty shootout against CSUN, claiming redemption after a poor performance in the 2015 shootout round with USC. Those two blocks in the box paved the way for her first Big West conference MVP award.
“This is her time to shine and she’s really shining. It’s hard for someone to be second for years and years, and then all of a sudden you’re it,” Burkenroad said.
Her final moments as CSUF’s go-to goalkeeper were in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Titans’ eighth appearance, where an unlucky goal in the 87th minute ended the team’s ride.
With her collegiate career officially over, Bertsch is looking into opportunities that would allow her to continue on to a professional level, by considering registering for the National Women’s Soccer League draft.
“It’s a huge physical and mental demand to jump from D1 to pro but I definitely think she has the drive and motivation to be even more successful and take her game to the next level,” Burkenroad said.
As the end of her senior year creeps up in her mind, Bertsch is reflective as her time as a Titan, hoping her mindset of battling through every match impacted the underclassmen.
“I want them to love this program as much as I do and to fight for it until the very end,” Bertsch said.
She said the chance to show that fight was worth the wait.
“Personally, I couldn’t be more happy with myself this year,” Bertsch said. “It was a dream season.”