With encouragement from her parents and the direction of her siblings, Massachusetts women’s soccer forward Julie Morrissey started playing her favorite game at four years of age.
“I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted to play soccer at a high level,” said Morrissey. “Soccer had a different effect on me than other sports I played.”
As it turns out, she made a good choice. The sport has been a part of her life ever since.
Morrissey has played a major role in UMass’ turnaround this year, helping the team recover from last season’s 8-11-0 performance, which included a 5-4 record in the Atlantic 10.
A year later, Morrissey, who transferred after three years starting for Cincinnati, has helped the Minutewomen become a major threat to win the Atlantic 10 tournament in November.
The Abington, Mass. native comes from a long line of athletes. As the youngest of three, she learned the work ethic and commitment required to compete from her family. Her farther, Mark, was a former baseball prospect, and her siblings, Stephanie and Matthew, were each Division I athletes in their respective sports.
“[My family taught me] if you wanted something, you had to work for it,” said Morrissey. “That wasn’t something hard for me to grasp, since I saw my brother and sister put the work in. It was easy for me to follow in their footsteps.”
Growing up, Morrissey played organized soccer year round for state teams like FC South Shore Selects, as well as out-of-state teams that traveled all around the country. Morrissey competed in various tournaments around Florida, California and North Carolina, to name a few of her destinations.
Like her sister, Morrissey attended Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass., playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
“I love to be out running around and active, it’s what I always knew growing up,” said Morrissey, whose aspirations to play at the collegiate level were as early as fifth grade. “I knew that [playing soccer at a high level] was what I wanted to make a priority from a really early age.”
Morrissey was selected as a freshman to the varsity team at Tabor, earning a starting role in the midfield in the latter half of the season. Over four years, she helped the squad capture two New England Class B championships. She earned all-state and all-New England selections for her junior and senior season, and also grabbed three team-Most Valuable Player awards. Morrissey was also a big part of why her team didn’t lose a match until her senior year. While playing for club teams, she also won state championships with her U-15 and U-17 squads.
Morrissey was recruited heavily by Division I programs as early as junior year and she made time to visit schools like Georgetown, San Diego State, Boston College and Brown.
After narrowing down her options a bit, Morrissey’s uncle, who lives in Ohio, encouraged her to visit Cincinnati.
“Initially, I didn’t think much of [Cincinnati] in the beginning,” said Morrissey. “I even remember taking the initial recruitment letter and throwing it away. I didn’t have any sense of the program or the Big East at that time.”
After some persuasion on the part of her uncle and some support from her parents, Morrissey decided to make the trip out to Ohio to tour the campus.
“I was blown away by the whole environment,” said Morrissey. “I loved the campus, the team, everything. I could really see myself there. Everything really fit my personality.”
With the decision down to Cincinnati, BU and Georgetown, Morrissey felt that the Bearcats’ program was the best fit.
“It really came down to the school and the program as a whole,” said Morrissey.
As a freshman in 2008, she started all 20 games, tallied seven goals and led the team in points (16), the first freshman to do so since 1993. As a converted forward from midfield, Morrissey helped propel Cincinnati to the Big East tournament, but the Bearcats were ultimately defeated by Notre Dame, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.
Despite the loss, Morrissey helped lead Cincinnati to its best Big East Conference record in school history (5-2-3), as well its first winning season in six years.
Her sophomore and junior seasons proved to be much more difficult. With the lack of true veteran leadership, the team struggled late in games and underperformed in contests it probably should have won. Discouraged by her teammates’ lack of interest, Morrissey contemplated a change of scenery.
“I knew something didn’t feel right,” said Morrissey, who began having thoughts of transferring after her sophomore season in 2009. “[Various factors] took me out of playing my game. I’m very hard on myself, and sometimes I need the people that know me best to encourage me, and I felt that I didn’t have enough of that at the time.”
She added that making the decision to transfer was “tough, because playing [at Cincinnati] allowed me to have some the best experiences in my life.”
Granted her release from Cincinnati following her junior season last November, Morrissey went back and considered the schools who had recruited her out of high school, among them BU and Northeastern.
But she didn’t plan on hearing from UMass.
The Minutewomen had just hired Ed Matz to coach its women’s soccer team, and by sheer coincidence, Matz had coached Morrissey while they both were affiliated with FC Greater Boston Bolts. They both helped capture the state championship in 2008 and knew how each other worked.
In another remarkable coincidence, Morrissey’s longtime friend, Stephanie Gordon, had just transferred to UMass and would be eligible to play goalkeeper in 2011 after sitting out the 2010 season as per NCAA rules.
With all the pieces falling into place, Morrissey decided on the Minutewomen, and she hasn’t regretted that choice at all since.
“It all just felt right,” said Morrissey. “I knew [Ed Matz] from playing with him in my past, and that he was a great coach. They had all this talent coming back and were trying to start something. I knew it was a challenge, and I liked the idea of coming in and helping to build something, like I did at Cincinnati.”
And helped she has.
With two regular season games left in the 2011 season, Morrissey has led the Minutewomen to an 11-3-2 record, the most wins the program has had since 2006 (11-6-0). On a personal level, she has had a career season, posting seven goals and a team-high 14 points.
“It’s been a really unique but fun experience this year,” said Morrissey. “It was hard adjusting in the beginning, because everything here was different. These girls are awesome and I knew most of them from either playing with them or against them, so that really helped me get comfortable quickly.”
As a senior, Morrissey has planned for life after soccer, although she’s in no hurry to give it up. With connections in coaching and semi-professional teams, time will only tell if she decides to take her game to another level, or if she will pursue other endeavors.
As a sociology major and a cooking hobbyist, she also has interests in pursuing the culinary arts after her time at UMass is complete.
“I would love to continue in soccer, but I know it can’t last forever,” said Morrissey. “[My sister and I] have a cousin who owns an organic market out west, and that’s something that we’ve considered in the future setting up along the east coast somewhere. I’m just keeping my options open, but whatever I do, I know it will be a good decision.”
“This has been a great experience, and I’m glad I’m here.”
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.