If not for her battling attitude, Brandeis women's soccer captain Morgan Clark '23 might have been somewhere studying dance right now. But she worked hard to become a starter on a senior-laden squad that concluded its season November 5th.
Growing up, Clark took ballet to please her mother, while her father hoped she would play soccer with her older sister. Clark enjoyed the dancing but ultimately felt the pull to work out her energy in a different way.
"I remember showing up at my first soccer practice in a sequined shirt and pink shorts!" she recalled. Clark's dad didn't think she would last very long, but she has kept up her career, long past the point where her sister stopped, continuing for four years at Brandeis.
When starting the college search, Clark was advised by a club coach to reach out to as many schools as possible by email. At that point, she hadn't heard much of Brandeis, but she had a friend who was really interested in the school. Clark met then-assistant coach Mary Shimko '14 at a tournament in Florida, did some research, and was ultimately surprised to get a call back from coach Shimko.
"I wasn't sure I could get in," Clark said. "But I loved the location, so I did an overnight. I loved the team. I loved the atmosphere. I loved Mary. I really felt like this was the place for me because it was a school that has a lot of authenticity to it."
As a first-year player, Clark was happy to come off the bench and be the funny kid on the team who would make everyone laugh. She was able to create memories with her teammates. But she also experienced a feeling that many college student-athletes do, as she went from being one of the best players on her club team to a bit player at the next level. Clark was determined to work hard to become a key member of the team on and off the field as a sophomore, only for the 2020 season to get derailed by COVID-19.
That step back from soccer also motivated Clark to come back and work even harder. She spent part of the COVID break with a friend in New Jersey, and part of it in Austin, Texas, where her dad had moved.
"He's my best friend, so we had a great time with each other," Clark said. "We took the time to really enjoy the little things together. We learned to cook, so we did that a lot. And when we could stay socially distanced, we would play soccer together. He's maybe not the best soccer player, but it really helped me prepare."
The missed season also made her appreciate the little things about soccer, that the game can be simpler than the wins and losses and making the postseason. It can be about the small things, the individual components that make up a game on the field, the touches, passes, and tackles that are required for team success.
"I'm not a very tall individual, but my mantra is 'Play Big,'" Clark said. "I have to compete with players who are bigger than me when I go up in the air to win a header. So I have to play with confidence. But at the same time, you have to remember it's just a game. If you go out there and play big, play with confidence, and play like your best self, that's going to be more than enough for you to find that starting spot and have an impact on the team.
With that attitude and new-found dose of confidence, when she returned to Brandeis as a junior, Clark worked her way into the starting lineup late in the season as the Judges made another NCAA tournament trip. She's continued in 2022, making starts in 12 of the team's 17 contests as a senior.
Clark also gets a large helping of inspiration from her mother, who took her on the road to tournaments in youth soccer, but who passed away when she was a freshman in high school. Now in college, before heading out on the field, Clark will listen on the headphones to some of her mother's favorite songs, like Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight" or Eminem's "Till I Collapse".
"She was my best friend first," Clark said. "She would always hype me up, and those songs provide me with the tenacity I need out there, which was something she instilled in me. Soccer is an avenue to keep her in my head, and it inspired me to keep playing soccer as long as I can. Because it's a way to stay around her."
After Morgan graduates from Brandeis, she hopes to go to law school. She's looking at the University of Texas-Austin, to be back close to her father. But she's also looking at Brandeis's University Athletic Association rivals, like Chicago or NYU, where she might be able to use an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to players whose careers were affected by COVID-19.
"I wish Brandeis had a program that catered to what I'm looking to do," she said. "Because I would love to use it here! And if I do get into a law school at a University that has a good soccer program, I'll use that extra year. But if not, then it just isn't in the stars."
-- by sports information director Adam Levin '94, MS '21