Of the 619 athletes nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award, only 30 were named to the final shortlist. Middlebury’s own Elise Morris ’22.5 was one of them.
Now halfway around the world playing professionally in the second tier of French soccer for FC Metz Féminine, Morris’ legacy lives on at Middlebury, both through her stellar athletic career and through her work in developing and facilitating an anti-racism and consent education curriculum for student-athletes. Morris is the second consecutive Panther and sixth Middlebury student ever to make the 30 woman shortlist after Erin Nicholas ‘22 was nominated last year.
“I think [the nomination] speaks to the importance of this [anti-racism and consent education] work and theory behind it that there is something to be said about student athletes coming together and talking about taboo things,” Morris said. “This work has been happening in the past and needs to continue to happen, but it feels amazing that it’s being recognized at this moment in time.”
Morris’ beginnings in diversity, equity and inclusion work date back far before their Middlebury days. As a high school student in Seattle, Morris was introduced to a DEI curriculum called Athletes as Leaders that she eventually co-authored material for. Upon arriving at college, Morris tweaked their program to tailor it specifically to the Middlebury environment in order to best fit the Middlebury athletic community.
“This program is based on the theory that athletes have social capital in the communities they are a part of,” Morris said. “I knew there was an opportunity for us as the student athlete community on campus to be doing more, to be stepping up. It is our responsibility to arm ourselves with the tools to create the culture that we all want to be a part of.”
The NCAA Woman of the Year Award was created in 1991 to honor athletes on women’s athletic teams for their achievements on and off the field. On the soccer pitch, Morris was a mainstay at the heart of the Panthers’ defense for four years, playing 66 career games and helping the team win two NESCAC titles. In their senior season, Morris captained the team and played all but 76 minutes of the season.
Aside from her achievements as a player, it is perhaps her feats as a member of the campus community for which Morris will be best remembered. In addition to facilitating hourlong conversations with varsity teams about navigating complicated issues like campus social norms, locker room conversations and player-coach relationships, Morris also worked as a member of the Title IX Office to promote awareness and prevention of sexual violence on campus.
Reflecting on their time at Middlebury, Morris hopes their work can continue to serve as an example of the impacts students can have on their community. “Stepping your foot in a new world does change that place,” she said. “That’s something to be proud of and something that can be done intentionally.”
Now starting a new chapter in Metz on the eastern border of France, Morris is still pursuing her passions for soccer and social advocacy. In addition to their burgeoning career in soccer, Morris is starting a non-profit called Cultivating Healthy Athletes who Move with Purpose (CHAMP) with former teammate Ellie Greenberg ’20.
“It’s basically a continuation of what I did at Middlebury, but I want to open it to as many college campuses as possible,” Morris said. “The idea is to spread this message as far and wide as possible so that many more people have access to these resources.”
While Morris continues to further her career with her non-profit and FC Metz Féminine, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will deliberate as they decide on the Woman of the Year award winner. One winner from each NCAA division will be announced at the NCAA Convention in January 2024.
Charles Crounse '24 (he/him) is the senior sports editor for the Campus. He has previously worked as a writer and staff editor for the section. Charles is pursuing a major in environmental policy and a minor in French, and in his free time he enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring Vermont. He is also a member of the club soccer team on campus.