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Eric Peterson, Published February 25 2014

MSUM’s Zabel has a knack for coming through at important moments


Four days after three small incisions were made in her stomach, Morgan Zabel sank two crucial shots.

When she was a senior in high school, Zabel had an emergency appendectomy the week her Northfield team was playing in a Minnesota girls basketball section final.

“I had a slim-to-none chance of playing,” said Zabel, now a senior on the Minnesota State Moorhead women’s basketball team.

Zabel played.

With her midsection wrapped in Ace bandages, she was at the foul line with 1.3 seconds remaining and her team trailing by one point. She swished both free throws, sending Northfield to the state tournament for the first time in 31 years.

“It was a good night,” Zabel said with a smile. “It was amazing how the beginning of that week was so sad and frustrating and the end of it was unbelievable.”

In her final season with MSUM, Zabel still has a penchant for making big shots. About two weeks ago, Zabel drained a short left-handed jumper with 5 seconds to play for a 78-76 win at Augustana.

“She is someone we can count on to hit that last-second shot,” Dragons senior Megan Strese said. “We can count on her to hit those clutch shots.”

The Dragons are headed back to Sioux Falls, S.D. They play Augustana at 7 tonight in the first round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference women’s basketball tournament.

Zabel has 1,101 career points heading into the NSIC tournament.

“She can look in the mirror and she can honestly say she has gotten everything out of her ability,” Dragons head coach Karla Nelson said of Zabel.

Zabel showed that drive during the week she had her appendectomy. She went in for surgery on a Monday and was in the hospital until Tuesday.

Zabel’s surgeon didn’t sign off for her to play until Friday, the day of the section title game. Zabel’s high school teammates didn’t know she would be playing until the bus ride to the game.

“I remember this like it was yesterday,” Zabel said of that up-and-down week.

In contrast, her career at MSUM has been a steady climb. She has increased her scoring average each year, leading the team with 15.7 points per game this season.

After her freshman year with the Dragons, Zabel shed more than 20 pounds. She said that helped with her endurance, and also made her a more effective perimeter player.

A 5-foot-10 forward, Zabel has developed into a versatile player. She is second on the team in rebounds (5.5 per game) and assists (2.8 per game). She is shooting 85 percent from the foul line, which is important because of how often she draws fouls on drives to the basket.

“She’s very crafty and I think for opponents she is very frustrating,” Nelson said.

Zabel showed some of that savvy on her game-winner at Augustana.

On the play, it appeared like she had nowhere to go on a drive along the baseline, before a step-through move she finished with her left hand. Zabel has knack for using her footwork to get off shots around the hoop or in traffic.

“She will pivot like five times, 10 times,” Strese said with a laugh. “She will just be in there spinning around and it always goes in.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com