Zoe Morse loves the game of soccer and all that it encompasses, so much so that a brief delay in starting her professional career with the Chicago Red Stars has only increased the former East Lansing Trojan’s enthusiasm for what she hopes will be a successful next step in her life’s journey within the world’s most popular sport.
Morse was sitting in a Charlottesville, Va., café on the campus of the University of Virginia in mid-January when she found out she was the 19th selection in the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League draft. The news got better when she learned that the voice on the other end of the phone line was calling from Chicago.
“Pure excitement,” Morse said. “Going into the draft I didn’t know when or to whom I would be drafted to. Hearing that it was Chicago, so close to home, it was really cool to share the moment with my friend, then call my family and all that stuff.”
Morse, who graduated from ELHS in 2016, started 85 of 86 games in her four seasons with the Cavaliers and was a captain her junior and senior years. She was a two-time selection to the Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Soccer All-Academic Team as well as a College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District player.
During her senior season, Morse, a 5-foot-9 defender, played a team-leading 1,923 minutes on the back line for the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers, who lost to Washington State in the second of the NCAA Tournament. Morse played the full time in 14 of 22 matches, and helped the Cavaliers post 14 shutouts. In one stretch, Virginia shut out seven consecutive ACC opponents.
“Without a doubt, Zoe Morse is one of the best combinations of player, student, and leader that I have ever coached at any level,” Virginia coach Steve Swanson said. “She always did what was in the best interest of the team first before even thinking about herself. She is the epitome of what a team player should be.”
Morse ran cross country and track at ELHS for long-time Trojan coach Bob Brown. He remembers first catching a glimpse of her running ability while in middle school at the Greater Lansing Junior Honor Roll meet.
“The meet was at MSU’s track, and Zoe was running the two-mile,” Brown said. “She and another runner traded leads back and forth for just about the entire race. Her winning time that year was faster than the high school Division 2 state champion’s time.”
Morse caught some more coaches’ attention in the fall of her freshman year when she finished fourth at the always competitive Spartan Invitational cross country meet. In the spring of 2013 she was an emergency fill-in on the winning 4×100 relay team at the Honor Roll Meet.
“(Head coach) Charles Pollard came over to me and said one of his girls was ill and couldn’t run, and did I know who we could use in her place,” Brown said. “We put Zoe in to run the third leg and it was if she had been part of that relay the whole season. Her handoffs (with the baton) were as clean as could be.”
Morse’s soccer skill was evident by the time she reached eighth grade. At that time, she was selected for a regional team, made the Michigan state team, attended a regional camp, and was “identified by a national scout.” During her high school years she played for the Michigan Hawks club team and has been a member of USA Soccer teams at the U(nder)-14, U-17 and U-20 levels. The latter team qualified at Trinidad and Tobago and went on to play at the World Championships in France in 2018.
Over the years, Morse said “the inner game of trying to get better, and being able to work on that day in and day out, and having a tangible measure of that” has provided the impetus to keep playing.
“The people I get to meet, the teammates I’ve played with, the coaches I’ve gotten to work with … some of the relationships I treasure the most have come out of this sport,” Morse said. “In college I started to realize the life lessons that come out of the game. Yes, they apply to sport but I can see myself growing as a person, because of the experiences I’ve had with the sport. I want to continue to explore that and grow with the sport” – now on the professional level.
Family of athletes
Morse is the oldest of Darin and Heather Morse’s three children. Her brother Jack graduated from ELHS in 2019 and is attending Davenport University in Grand Rapids while brother Sam will be a senior Trojan when school resumes later this year. Jack played football and basketball at ELHS while Sam, like his sister, prefers soccer.
ELHS varsity soccer coach Jeff Lyon admits that it would have been nice to have Zoe in the starting lineup at Archer Stadium.
“In my twenty-four years with East Lansing High School athletics, I can say with confidence that Zoe was clearly one of our best athletes,” Lyon said. “I didn’t see her play many games in person – she played a handful of summer league games leading up to her freshman year – but those times that I did, you knew you were watching something special.”
Brown praised her determination and teamwork.
“Great personality and a wonderful teammate,” Brown said. “When it was time to put her game face on, she was always ready. But off the track she was always smiling and willing to do whatever we asked.”
Swanson said Morse is one of the most motivated players he has ever worked with.
“Always wanting feedback, always working to improve and always trying to be the best possible player she can be,” Swanson said. “Her ability to play at the highest level has to do with her skills that she worked long hours to develop, but even more to do with her willingness to prepare and bring her best to training and games. Zoe has always taken complete control of her growth and development and never makes excuses.”
Having completed her degree in global public heath, with a minor in environmental science – “I’m really interested in how humans are affecting the environment,” she says – Morse is planning to report to the Red Stars camp next week to begin individual workouts.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced earlier this week that all clubs may permit the use of outdoor team training fields under a “Return to Play Phased Protocol” that details all health and safety guidelines and requires clubs to respect all federal, state, and local mandates related to the coronavirus pandemic. The league-wide moratorium on full team training remains in place through May 15.
“At this point I really want to make the team, get there and prove myself, take it step by step,” she said. “Really play as well as I can possibly can, then maybe think about the U-23 national camp.”
Always thinking, always looking forward. The only way Zoe Morse knows how to play.