Prep Swimming: Salisbury’s Morrison to ECU

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 19, 2017

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — Her training regimen is legendary, so where Kathryn Morrison found the time to make so many friends is anyone’s guess.

Her after-school signing on Wednesday afternoon with East Carolina’s swimming program attracted a swarm of athletes to the Salisbury High media center.

Not just the swim teams, but baseball players, football players, soccer players and tennis players. Maybe a few just dropped by for the cake, but most were there because they genuinely like Morrison, who has been a giant in the pool for the Hornets despite a 5-foot-3 frame.

“Kathryn is one of those people who goes through life with a smile on her face,” Salisbury swimming coach Sallie Pittman said. “You’d like to have whole teams of people like her, and that’s because of her character and her personality, not just because of her ability.”

As far as ability, Morrison has plenty. With her senior season just getting started, she’s already been Central Carolina Conference Swimmer of the Year twice (2015 and 2017) and Rowan County Swimmer of the Year three times.

She splashed on the scene as a freshman in the winter of 2015, taking third in the 1A/2A state championships in the 100 backstroke, placing fifth in the 100 butterfly and leading the Hornets to top-eight finishes in two relays.

As a sophomore, she was state runner-up in both of her best individual events.

As a junior, last February, she took her first state title, winning the 100 backstroke in 55.26 seconds. She was third in the 100 butterfly and helped the Hornets finish ninth in the 200 medley relay.

Swimming is a demanding sport physically. There are a lot of good athletes who appeared for the opening day of swim practice, and then didn’t come back after that first workout.

Swimming also can be a mentally crushing sport if you put in the pool hours as well as the car-driving hours that Morrison has logged over the years to reach the championship level she’s attained.

So even for Morrison, who has the sunniest of dispositions, there was an inevitable burnout point. She reached a crossroads between her junior and senior seasons.

“Junior year is probably the hardest year of all academically, and it was just a very tough year, knowing that so many important decisions, life-changing decisions, were coming up for me,” Morrison said. “And as far as swimming, I got into a little bit of a slump. I won a state championship, but my times had leveled off after improving for so long. I was getting a little frustrated. I was wondering if this is what I really wanted to do for for another four years after high school.”

The sun kept coming up each day. The crisis passed. Morrison cut back on her swimming hours for the first time in a long time over the summer.

That’s all it took for the joy of being in the pool to return.

“The key was just focusing on having fun again,” Morrison said. “Swimming is a sport, it’s not a job. And when I figured that out, I knew I really wanted to compete in college.”

Morrison had a lot of colleges from which to choose. She took visits to East Carolina, South Carolina and Queens, the Division II powerhouse in Charlotte that former Salisbury swimmer McKenzie Stevens has helped win national championships.

Morrison, who is leaning toward a career in nursing, believes she found the right fit in East Carolina. South Carolina felt too big, too sprawling. Queens was nice, but she really wanted D-I.

“East Carolina felt comfortable and felt right,” Morrison said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I would have a chance to be on the relays as well as swim my individual events. I wanted to go somewhere where I’d have a good spot on the team and where I would matter.”

East Carolina is a solid Division I program, but it’s a program where Morrison can have a life that’s not all swimming, all the time.

“A lot of the big schools, they want you to stay there during the summer to keep training,” Morrison said. “East Carolina actually encourages swimmers to go home and compete for their club teams in the summer. When I heard that, I knew I could have fun there. I knew it was the right place for me.”

If Morrison’s pep had started to waver after that grueling junior year, she’s re-energized now. She has a lot of goals for her senior season.

Individually, she’d like to win the 100 butterfly in the state meet for the first time. She’s been close twice. She also plans to repeat as 100 backstroke state champion.

Morrison will swim in the Junior Nationals in Knoxville in December against elite competition.

“They have morning swims where you have to qualify to come back to swim at night,” Morrison said. “This will be my third time, and I’ve never made it. This time I want to be in the night swims.”

Team-wise, the Hornets have won the Central Carolina Conference every year Morrison has competed. She hopes to to extend that streak even though the competition level in the league has changed dramatically with the addition of former 4A school North Davidson and ex-3A schools Ledford, Central Davidson and South Rowan.

Salisbury also is the defending champion in Rowan County, despite limited numbers.

“Kathryn has put so much of herself into swimming for so long, and she’s just a great leader for our team,” Pittman said. “In numbers we’ll be small again, but we’ll be mighty.”