EAST LANSING – Zoe Morse, a junior at East Lansing High, has been in love with soccer since she was a little girl. Recognized as an All-American and representing the U.S. as part of the Women’s National Team, she’s beginning to realize her dreams of playing in the World Cup are within reach.
Morse is one of 24 players in the country named on the U.S. U-18 Women’s National Team (WNT). The team’s first training camp of the year was held in February at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Soccer’s “U” system denotes players under a certain age, grouping them by team.
“It’s amazing,” said Morse, who plays midfielder. “All the staff there just really helps you out, it’s that kind of environment where everyone just wants you to succeed.”
Morse and her team will be eligible to qualify for the 2016 FIFA U-20 World Cup. However, the next World Cup in 2018 might be more realistic. The WNT program starts with U-17, running through U-23. The final level is the elite WNT, which includes players like Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx and will represent the U.S. this summer in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Morse considers her involvement with the national teams to be her greatest achievement. The All-American honor in January comes at a close second. She also played on the U-17 WNT in 2013, and helped her team defeat Japan in the Women’s NTC Invitational.
Aside from the national team, Morse is a midfielder for the U-18 Michigan Hawks coached by Doug Landefeld. The Hawks program has been a springboard for Michigan’s best players, such as former star defender Kate Sobrero Markgraf.
“The competition is really kind of what separates us (from most programs), it’s why we’re in this league and why people like Zoe are playing for us,” said Landefeld.
Twenty-one of the 22 players on Landefeld’s roster will play collegiate soccer, with 20 in Division I .
“(Zoe’s) always challenged, and that’s the best environment for her to be in so when she gets in the national program, (it will be) difficult, but she’s ready.”
The Hawks compete in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Conference and play throughout the Midwest. They are ranked second in the league for the 2014-15 season. Three times a year, they travel across the U.S. for a showcase to compete against the top teams in the country. Most of these teams include future WNT players. At the end of the season, the Hawks will participate in the national championship tournament.
Morse tore her ACL in February 2014 playing in a Dallas showcase. Aside from a broken arm her freshman year, Morse hasn’t had major injuries. A player that has never taken more than a week off from practice was forced to sit for about six months.
She underwent ACL reconstruction surgery and physical therapy. In late July, Morse slowly eased her way back. She ran a couple of races for her high school’s cross country team in late fall, and got some minutes with the Hawks.
About a year later, she’s close to full strength. The recovery was by far her biggest challenge in soccer.
“It was tough, but it made me better through the process,” said Morse.
A well-rounded athlete
Soccer is Morse’s priority, but she also runs track and cross-country for the Trojans. Track? Cross country? Who is she? Coach Bob Brown knew Morse was special before she entered high school. As a seventh grader, Morse ran the 3200m in a time that would’ve won that year’s state high school track meet.
“She just a phenomenal athlete in general,” said Brown. “She has decided to pursue soccer, but I think that she could be great in a lot of different things.”
Like running perhaps?
Two years ago, Morse set the high school’s freshman cross-country record, finishing in 18:09. Her time is also third fastest in Trojan history. Later that spring, she set the freshman track 800m record at 2:16 - only a half second off the school record.
Morse is a fierce competitor on the field and in the classroom. Despite all her traveling for both the Hawks and WNT, plus her involvement with high school track and cross-country, Morse maintains a 4.06 GPA.
The next step
Morse has verbally committed to playing soccer at Virginia, one of the nation’s best Division I programs. Last season, the Cavaliers were the Division I runner-up in the NCAA national championship, losing to Florida State 1-0. This program has been the stepping-stone for many players involved with the national teams, such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Angela Hucles, and Lori Lindsey.
“I just loved the coach there. I really like the East Coast, it’s a good school and really good soccer program…really good fit for me,” said Morse.
She had offers from other Division I schools such as North Carolina, Stanford, Michigan State, Penn State and Northwestern. “I would love to take (soccer) as far as I possibly can - anywhere that it can take me. It would be amazing to play on a full team but everything has to fall into place for that,” said Morse.
A recent Cavalier graduate and two seniors were chosen to play for the U.S. U-23 WNT that will compete in La Manga, Spain in a six-team invitational. UVA Coach Steve Swanson will coach this team, but will not be present in La Manga. He will be serving as the assistant coach with the WNT at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
Morse is focused on the now, but in the back of her mind, she knows the World Cup is in sight.
“I would really like to keep going back to the nationals camps, having a good run at Virginia, and hope that everything will work out,” she said.
Her current coaches believe she has what it takes.
“She has a lot of the intangibles, her work (ethic), mentality, her toughness…now it requires a little bit of luck and fortune, playing well at the right times, (doing) what the coaches need,” said Landefeld. “The hope is this all translates into her being with the women’s full team in three or four years.”