Unlike Hollywood, the stage of athletics has no scripted outcome. It is theatre of the unexpected where there are no scripts that allow those in the starring roles to know that some of their greatest moments will be born out of some their toughest challenges. Such was the case for Sun Devil goalkeeper Chandler Morris who went from being thrust into the starter’s role much sooner than expected last year, to being one of the heroes in arguably the biggest win in school history earlier this month.
That one-of-a kind euphoric feeling that comes with such accomplishments could be seen on Morris’ face as she was being interview by Pac-12 Networks following the Sun Devils’ 1-0 upset of second-ranked Stanford on Oct. 6. The win ended the Cardinal’s run of 73 straight home games without a loss and its 44-game conference winning streak. Morris made seven saves in the game as she and the Sun Devils’ back line weathered several Stanford onslaughts in the second half to preserve the win.
It wasn’t all that long ago that this would have been considered an unlikely scenario for Morris. It had nothing to do with lack of ability, but rather lack of opportunity. At the conclusion of her redshirt freshman year in 2011, Morris had two other players in front of her. One was a rising senior who was three-year starter and the other a co-starter, who would still have three years of eligibility left after taking a medical redshirt as a sophomore in 2011.
Fast forward to the start of the 2012 season and Morris suddenly found herself cast into the role of starter following the unexpected departure of the two incumbents. The proverbial baptism under fire would ensue for Morris as she endured the growing pains that go with the position. By season’s end, she was one of the major contributors to the five-game unbeaten streak that propelled the Sun Devils into the NCAA Tournament. She would go on to be named the team’s Most Improved Player after starting all 21 games.
Coming off her shutout of Stanford, a performance which earned her College Sports Madness Pac-12 Player of the Week recognition, the last thing on Morris’ mind is slowing down her progress.
“After that redshirt year it was different coming in and playing all of those games,” said Morris. “But there’s a lot more confidence involved now.”
Morris says she’s not only improved on her decision-making, but her goal-kick range has increased by ten yards from last year. It only marks a stepping-stone in her journey to be the best she can be.
“It’s still a work in progress,” she said. “Just kicking over and over is getting me better.”
Maybe getting thrown into all those starts as a young player would affect someone mentally, but to Morris, “you have to be a little crazy to be a goal keeper.”
It’s a lot of pressure; guarding a net that, if standing on its end, would be more than four times taller than the 5’8” keeper.
“I like the pressure,” Morris said. “And I like sacrificing my body a bit to get a save; I like diving for the ball.”
Sacrificing one’s body is indeed one of the occupational hazards of the position; something that Morris has become all too familiar with recently. In consecutive weeks – at Cal on Oct. 4 and at Oregon on Oct. 11 – Morris was involved in collisions that required play to be stopped after she remained down on the field. She would not allow either incident to force her off the pitch however as she would go on to play the entirety of both games.
To manage the stress of being the last defender between the ball and the goal, Morris says she’s perfected her short-term memory in the case of an opponent scoring on her.
“Everyone thinks it’s so weird that I literally won’t remember a goal or a save,” she said. “I always just keep moving forward.”
So Morris will keep making her leg stronger, improving her game, and upping her save average—not that she’ll remember any of them.
Morris and the Sun Devils will conclude their current stretch of five consecutive road games this Friday when they travel to Los Angeles to take on second-ranked and Pac-12 leader UCLA. The Sun Devils will close out the regular season playing four of their final five games at home, beginning on Fri., Oct. 25 when they host the University of Washington at 7 p.m.