‘Pure elation and joy:’ Calvin University grad achieves soccer dream

Chris Morrish led the Calvin Knights to a berth in the Division III NCAA national championship game. Courtesy Chris Morrish

In Kentucky, Calvin University graduate Chris Morrish was getting ready to try out for the USL Championship’s Louisville City Football Club when he received a call from Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds heard that Morrish was in Louisville. They wanted to sign him.

To Morrish, the contract offer he signed last month with the Riverhounds was confirmation that he was good enough to turn a lifelong love for soccer into a real job.

“It was about five seconds of pure elation and joy. This is one thing that I’ve worked my entire life for — that people have said I cannot do — and by the grace of God, I’ve done it,” he said.

Morrish, 23, spent two seasons as goalkeeper for the Calvin Knights, racking up a 21-2 record with 10 shutouts in the 2018 season and reaching the Division III NCAA national championship game, falling to Tufts University 2-1 in the title game. In 2019, he had a 12-2-1 record with six shutouts, leading his team to a semifinal berth before once again losing to Tufts.

“That 2018 team was so unbelievably talented,” Morish said. “I think it’s the best D3 soccer team to ever exist.”

Leading up to the Riverhounds’ season, Morrish spent early March doing training sessions with his personal coach in Memphis, Tennessee, and now anticipates the start of the preseason, which is scheduled for April 1, according to the Riverhounds’ website.

According to USL’s website, the Riverhounds’ season starts May 15.

‘Since I was able to walk’

Originally from Bradenton, Florida, soccer was introduced to Morrish at an early age — each of his three siblings played soccer when he was born. At 2, he began kicking the ball around. By 3, Morrish was playing with the 5-year-olds at the YMCA.

“Soccer’s just been something that I’ve lived breathed and loved since I was able to walk,” he said.

Morrish said he doesn’t remember why his coach chose to put him in goal as a young player, but he does remember rolling the ball out, dribbling past each of the opposing team’s players and scoring on the opposite goal.

While Morrish was and is confident in his game, he said he doesn’t see himself as being the most explosive player or as having the quickest reaction time. Rather, his talent lies in mastering the little things — footwork, handling, distribution, etc. — and putting in the necessary time and effort to do so.

“Everything that you could control as a goalkeeper, Chris does well,” said Ryan Souders, Morrish’s coach at Calvin.

In addition to being a talented player with a good work ethic, Morrish has the proper mentality for defending a goal.

Morrish said he loves the pressure, that butterflies are a result of his passion for the sport and kickstart his emotions before a game. In terms of a competitive mentality, he said that when it comes down to it, he’ll bet on himself over another team’s goalie.

“There’s just this little bit of a confidence and arrogance factor that is needed to be a goalie because every time the ball comes at you, it can win or lose you a game,” Morrish said.

‘A knife to my heart’

Morrish faced a major setback when it came time to commit to a college. He was looking for a Christian school with good academics and — with the hopes of playing professionally — a good soccer program.

Morrish picked a college that fit his criteria: Emory University in Atlanta, his dad’s alma mater. He called the Emory head coach, fully ready to commit, excited to begin his college soccer career. Instead, the coach informed Morrish that he could not attend Emory because his grades weren’t high enough.

“It was like a knife to my heart,” he said.

Morrish ended up attending his second choice, Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he played backup goalkeeper for his first year. The following year, with the previous goalkeeper graduated, Morrish expected to win the starting job but tore the labrum in his right shoulder on the first day of preseason.

In addition to a new injury, Morrish saw his grades dipping and realized he was unhappy with his recent lifestyle.

“That 2018 team was so unbelievably talented. I think it’s the best D3 soccer team to ever exist.”
Chris Morris

“I was at this point of my grades are terrible, I’m not following Jesus well, and I’m not going to be able to play soccer; what’s the point of being here?” he asked himself.

After two weeks of trying to get healthy, Morrish dropped out and moved back to Florida.

Back in Bradenton, he took a semester off before starting at a local junior college, where he would play soccer and earn his associate degree, before going on to another good soccer school.

After his first semester, he met with the head coach for an end-of-spring evaluation meeting.

“The coach looked me in the eye and said, ‘The next school you look at, don’t even think about soccer because you’re not good enough to become a professional.’”

The coach went on to tell Morrish that the incoming freshman was better than him and would likely play over him.

Morrish, hoping to attend a good school after completing a two-year degree at the junior college, realized his coach likely wouldn’t stick his neck out to help him, so he began searching for colleges on his own. He found two Christian schools that would enable him to play soccer at a high level, Calvin University and Messiah University in Pennsylvania, and he scheduled visits to each.

Growing as a soccer player

During the visit to Calvin, Souders, a former pro goalie, told Morrish they needed a goalkeeper. If they got one, they’d have a good chance of winning a national championship.

Morrish said he liked the idea of an immediate switch and liked that Souders was himself a former goalkeeper. In addition, Morrish saw how Calvin prioritized “building up Christian followers and putting them into their vocations well.” He felt it was the place for him and canceled his visit to Messiah.

At Calvin, Morrish found a radically different team culture than he was used to. He saw seniors carrying equipment — usually a job for freshmen. He saw a kind of servant leadership in which the guys cared for each other in practical ways.

Morrish said the team was close-knit, that there wasn’t anybody he couldn’t go up to and say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this, I need you.”

Additionally, Morrish experienced a freedom at Calvin that he didn’t have at other schools. Coach Souders told him to experiment and to make his own decisions and gave him a freedom to fail.

According to Souders, Calvin was the perfect environment for Morrish.

“It allowed him to grow as a soccer player without worrying about growing as a soccer player,” Souders said. “At the end of the day, Chris had to go and perform, and I think Chris would tell you if those doors had been opened his sophomore year at Calvin, he wouldn’t have had the ability or the capacity to walk through them that he did two years later.”

In his final two years of college, Morrish focused on daily improvements rather than a long-term goal. He formed friendships as a valued part of a community, and he aligned his lifestyle with his passions.

“Chris couldn’t become a pro his sophomore year at Calvin. No matter how bad he would have wanted to, it wasn’t possible,” Souders said. “The opportunity wasn’t there; he hadn’t proven himself as a college goalkeeper. I said, ‘Chris, you’ve got to worry about every single day; what is your job to do here? And if you do those things, I promise you, you will be in a position where you will have those opportunities.”

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