In the 56th minute of the University of Vermont’s fourth game of the season, former Foxboro standout Joe Morrison was able to cushion a ball into the path of fellow senior Alex Nagy, who rifled a shot under the bar for what turned out to be the game-winner against Princeton. While Morrison would admit that the finish may have overshadowed the pass, it was an important moment for the midfielder, who has been battling an injury for several years, to record his first assist since the 2019 season.
“It wasn’t much of an assist really,” Morrison said with a laugh. “Being able to celebrate with him and the guys, there’s nothing better than celebrating a goal with the team, especially at home with your home fans finally back.”
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) September 8, 2021
Each of the last three seasons, Morrison has been managing a groin injury that has kept him from being able to play a full 90 minutes and forced him to adapt his game. After playing 19 games with nine starts as a freshman and starting 14-of-15 games as a sophomore, he only played off the bench in four of UVM’s eight games last year and has yet to make a start this fall.
He was an all-conference performer as a freshman, scoring once and assisting on another, and scored twice and had three assists in his second season in Burlington. Heading into this weekend’s America East opener with Stony Brook, Morrison received word that he has been cleared to play full games and he hopes that will allow his role to expand.
“Last game was really the first game where I felt like myself,” he explained, “but I think it’s just something I’m always going to have to deal with and manage and treat it. Learning how to play limited was definitely an obstacle, but it was better than not playing.”
When asked about the difficulty of trying to fight through an injury and continue to contribute, Morrison replied, “It’s just frustrating more than anything. Knowing that I don’t have that extra burst to beat a guy off the dribble, instead I’m going to have make an easy pass. It’s something you learn to play with. Instead of using my athleticism, you use your intelligence more, be smart, and know when to take chances. It’s really frustrating.”
In 2020-21, due to the pandemic, UVM was only able to play eight games, going 5-2-1 and losing to top seed UNH in the America East Tournament final. This fall, things are feeling a little more normal around the program and Morrison appreciates the moments on the pitch that provide a much-needed distraction from the real world.
“In a way, it’s kind of like a therapy,” he said. “It’s two hours a day where you don’t think about anything besides playing soccer. You’re not even really thinking about playing soccer, you’re just playing. When you’re off the field, there are so many distractions.”
Having teammates to share the experience of this past year has been critical to overcoming the challenges and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“What we were going through for a year, year and a half, was terrible,” Morrison reflected, “but you had 30 of your best friends going through it with you. We all knew how bad it was but when you do it together, with your closest friends, it makes it a lot easier.”
Morrison came to UVM after an award-filled four years at Foxboro. He played two years with the soccer team, earning All-State honors and being named to the HockomockSports.com Best XI both years. The 2014 Underclassman of the Year helped the Warriors make two deep playoff runs, but he chose to play for the Boston Bolts academy during his junior and senior seasons.
“Those high school kids, I played soccer with for 15 years and I guess you can kind of say it was a selfish decision to play academy,” he said, “but it was something I really had to at least for one year. I really wanted to play high school my senior year, but looking back it was probably a good decision I didn’t. Playing academy, it was high level, it was five, six days a week and it really helped. Right when I got here, I felt like I was ready to contribute.”
Unlike most of the academy players, Morrison did continue his basketball career for all four years at Foxboro and was named the HockomockSports.com Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and Player of the Year as a senior. He continues to have a positive relationship with Foxboro coach Jon Gibbs, who went to a recent UVM game to see him play.
“There was nothing better than playing a sport with all your buddies that you grew up with, playing for your town,” Morrison said. “It was so special. Jon was incredible too. He was an incredible role model, mentor, he still keeps in touch with all of us. He did so much for me in high school, I appreciate him so much.”
It has been a bright start to the season for the Catamounts, who opened with five straight wins and hadn’t allowed a goal until this weekend’s game with Stony Brook. Despite having a 17-to-7 edge in shots (seven to three in shots on goal), UVM suffered its first loss of the season against the Seawolves. Morrison recorded a season-high three shots in the match.
Although UVM suffered a loss in its conference opener, the Catamounts have started well and Morrison feels the squad has the potential to make this a special season, especially as his confidence, health, and overall play continue to improve.
“Yeah, we’re doing well,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. Winning is fun…We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of guys that just want to win games. We have a really cohesive team and that’s the goal, make the NCAA Tournament and make a run for the title.”