BY MAX BAYERN, Assistant Sports Editor
It wasn’t a pair of fancy cross-country shoes or a high tech uniform that propelled Central Washington University’s Connie Morgan to the NCAA Division II National Championships. It was two sharpie hand-scribbled words on her left wrist that said “Don’t settle.”
Last Saturday, a Chico State runner was closing in on Morgan, a National berth hanging in the balance.
“I said to myself, ‘You can’t let her go by, she will be on a team that will go to Nationals and have no effect on you going to Nationals,’” Morgan said.
At that moment, Morgan noticed the scribbled saying on her wrist and refused to give in. She sprinted the final leg of the race, out-kicking the Chico State runner to the finish line. After the race, Morgan was congratulated by that same runner for the exciting finish.
With her sixth-place finish, Morgan, a public relations major, claimed a berth into the National Championship after the Nov. 9 Regional Championship race.
But if you asked Morgan if she ever thought this was possible, she would laugh in your face.
“I didn’t run cross country in high school,” Morgan said. “I did track and was a swimmer. I’m a middle-distance runner, but I always had an interest in cross country.”
All it took was a little persuading and recruiting by coach Kevin Adkisson to get Morgan to sign up.
Morgan, who graduated from Hoquiam High School in 2010, dabbled in many other interests in school.
For one, she played the tuba in her marching band, and the trombone in her concert band. She even marched in parades at Disneyland and the Victoria Day Parade in Victoria B.C.
She was the lead actress for her high school’s drama troupe her senior year in the production “Once upon a Mattress.” Morgan was even nominated for an award – Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role – by the Fifth Avenue Theater.
Last spring, Morgan competed in the Miss East Cascade beauty pageant, and won, leading her to the Miss Washington pageant. In February, Morgan will compete again, this time in the Miss Gray’s Harbor beauty pageant and she hopes to return to the Miss Washington pageant for her second appearance.
However, Morgan knew all along she was an athlete. She holds two records in track and one for swimming at Hoquiam High School. The 400-meter and 800-meter for track, and the 4×50 relay in swimming.
Morgan claims that she gets her sports background from her parents. Her father Chuck didn’t play any sports in college, but his job on a farm growing up led him to be very athletic.
“He is only an inch taller than me (5’7”) and he can dunk a basketball,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s mother, however, played fast pitch softball at St. Louis University. Morgan also has a brother who attends the University of Washington and is enrolled in the Army ROTC program.
Morgan, who is a senior, has eligibility to come back next fall and run again.
She had redshirt status from stress fractures when she was a senior in high school and carried over to her freshman year at Central.
“When she told me she is coming back for another season, it pretty much made my year,” Adkisson said.
This was a very anticipated day for Morgan and her teammates. They had been training hard all season.
“We always spoke about Nationals, we would say, ‘Lets make it to Nationals!’” Morgan said.
The team warmed up with their regular routine. Morgan warms up a little differently. A usual warm up begins 45 minutes before the beginning of the meet, but Morgan likes to take an hour to get ready.
She likes to jog around for 10 to 15 minutes, getting loose while bumping to the song “Beat Down” by Steve Aoki featuring Iggy Azalea.
Morgan then joins her teammates for some drills and continued warm up. Then the race is ready, and runners better be too.
“When you hear the announcer say ‘sweats off,’ you know it’s go time,” Morgan said.
Morgan says that she wasn’t even thinking about Nationals at the beginning of the race.
“I wanted to be in the top 15 or top 20,” Morgan said. “The top 25 make all-region and that was a good goal for me.”
She had been tapering down her workouts leading up to regionals.
“Right before the race,” Morgan said. “Kevin [Adkisson] comes up to me and says ‘You know what? There is that Hawaii Pacific girl and Katelyn [Steen] from Western who are probably going to be the first two individuals to go to Nationals, But after that, it’s wide open.’ We had never talked about Nationals like that before.”
Morgan says she jumped out to a fast pace and never looked back.
As the rest of Morgan’s teammates finished, they began to feel the excitement.
“As soon as we finished the race, we asked coach, ‘how did she do?’” roommate and teammate Megan Rogers said. “When we found out she was going to go to Nationals, we went crazy.”
Rogers says she has already planned a group of friends and teammates that will travel to Spokane to root for Morgan.
“I’m really happy to have Connie as a teammate. I see her as a leader and she is so talented,” Rogers said. “She puts up fast times not because of her talent, but because she works so hard.”
Morgan says her ability to shave minutes from her times last year can be credited to taking off-season workouts seriously and her teammates pushing her to be at her best all the time.
“She always talks about the team going to Nationals next season, and not just her.” Rogers said.
Whether Morgan is performing in beauty pageants, singing, or creating vine videos with her friends, she is focused on her big race.
“She inspired the team and coaches with what she has done,” Adkisson said. “She is a huge supporter of the team.”
Adkisson says one of the best things about Morgan besides her blazing mile times, is her ability to express herself.
“She wants to express her personality, she wears wild socks when she runs,” Adkisson said. “She would wear a few different pairs, and they wouldn’t always match.”