October 12, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

Hoo-rizons: Former Hoos Star Has Everyone on Her New Team Seeing Green

As a professional soccer player with the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, former UVA star Zoe Morse has taken her passion for the environment to new levels.

It was during the National Women’s Soccer League’s monthlong Challenge Cup tournament in Utah in the summer of 2020 when Zoe Morse’s Chicago Red Stars teammates got their first glimpse of one of her biggest passions.

Just starting her professional career, the former University of Virginia soccer star showed up to a team meal – which was being held in a “bubble” setting due to the pandemic – with her own set of travel utensils.

From that moment on, Morse’s reputation as a greenie took flight.

“It was kind of a conversation-starter,” Morse said. “People knew early on that I was passionate about [the environment] and cared about it.

“It was really cool to see people be like, ‘Ooh, I want one of those [utensil sets]. How can I do that?’”

Fans of UVA soccer are likely well-versed in Morse’s support for any and all sustainability issues.

While on Grounds, Morse helped start Green Athletics, a student-run group that collaborates with UVA’s offices of Sustainability and Intercollegiate Athletics to encourage and support sustainability across all athletic platforms.

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The club organized zero-waste events, reduced water and energy consumption at sports venues and collaborated with Charlottesville residents on projects such as sports gear donations.

As a pro, Morse – who majored in global public health and minored in environmental science while at UVA – has taken her passion for sustainability to new levels.

The East Lansing, Michigan, native took virtual classes during pandemic downtime last fall that allowed her to become a member of the Chicago Conservation Corps. Known as “C3,” the organization trains and supports a network of volunteers who work together to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods through environmental service projects.

At the program’s conclusion, Morse immediately took everything she learned to the Red Stars. She helped increase recycling signage in and around the stadium; rallied members of the organization for a cleanup of a local park; led an effort to donate 300 pairs of lightly worn cleats to members of the local community; created educational videos about sustainability on social media; and even convinced the Red Stars’ support staff to wash practice gear and uniforms with a zero-waste and non-toxic laundry detergent.

And then in July, Morse, in collaboration with the Red Stars’ front office, put together a “Go Green” game in which the organization handed out reusable grocery bags to the first 1,000 fans.

Now in her second season for the Chicago Red Stars, former UVA star Zoe Morse is as passionate about the environment as ever. (Photo by Gretchen Schneider)

“Zoe came with many ideas and connections from the organizations that she works with,” said Michelle Henstock, who serves as the Red Stars’ director of sponsorship, themes and promotions. “It was clear that sustainability is more than just a passion for her, it is a way of life.

“We plan to follow her lead and continue to work on taking steps for the organization to be sustainable, and we look forward to planning our 2022 Go Green Game.”

On the field, Morse is still adjusting to the professional game. So far this season, the defender has logged only eight minutes for the Red Stars, who have an 8-8-5 record and are tied for sixth place in the 10-team league.

“We have so many good players here, and I’m new, I’m young,” Morse said. “But I have gotten to learn a lot from older players and feel like I’ve really improved a lot despite a lack of game minutes.”

Morse’s teammates include former UVA stars Morgan Brian Gautrat, Danielle Colaprico and Makenzy Doniak, all of whom graduated before Morse arrived on Grounds.  

“They had been back to visit UVA, so I had met them all before, but I didn’t really know them before coming here,” Morse said. “It is really cool, obviously having that tie and memories from UVA, even if we didn’t experience them at the same time.”

All four players played under Cavaliers head coach Steve Swanson, one of the most successful and respected coaches in the sport.

“Things will constantly happen, and we’ll look at each other and say, ‘Oh! Does that remind you of this?’ or ‘Did you ever do this?’” said Morse, with a laugh. “It’s fun reminiscing on different timelines. It’s definitely helped me coming in as a young player, knowing that there are players who have had similar experiences to me.”

With pent-up energy, Morse said her work in the sustainability space has been a great outlet.

In addition to her work with the Red Stars, Morse is a member of EcoAthletes, a network of current and former athletes who care about the environment, as well as Hometown H20, an offshoot of Chris Long’s Waterboys initiative that she joined while at UVA.

Through EcoAthletes, Morse has encouraged young athletes in Chicago schools think about sustainability issues. This year, EcoAthletes will be sending one of its members to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26) in Scotland with an “athlete manifesto.” The document, which has been signed by athletes from around the world, including several from UVA, outlines sustainability goals.

“I really think it comes down to [the fact] that, as humans, we’re impacting this incredible Earth system, this cosmic system,” said Morse, when asked why she is so passionate about the environment. “For us to come in and destroy this beautiful Earth and take away this home for so many species and the human race. … I think it’s just our responsibility not to do that and to do everything we can to preserve this [planet] and to continue having joys in life.

“We’re leaning on fossil fuels and all that type of stuff that are ultimately destroying the future and not going to allow those joys for future generations.”

Morse lived on the Lawn as a fourth-year student. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Morse said the work she’s done with Hometown H20 has been extremely gratifying. Recently, she helped a family in Missouri gain access to clean water.

“There are so many people in the United States who need clean water and they can’t be overlooked,” Morse said. “Access to clean water should be a human right. It shouldn’t be something that people have to worry about.”

While at UVA, Morse – who lived on the Lawn as a fourth-year student and was nominated as NCAA Woman of the Year in 2020 – was also involved in several other extracurricular activities, including serving as a member of Student Athlete Mentors, the primary substance abuse prevention program in the athletic department, which also focuses on athletes’ mental health and body image.

It was with that mindset of staying active, doing good deeds and always trying to learn and expand your skill set that Morse recently began hosting a regular podcast with a teammate and Red Stars staffer that touches on a wide range of topics.

“As a sports team, we have this platform that I feel is necessary to use in the best way that you can – to use it for good,” Morse said. “But you can’t just express these grand ideas and tell people to do these things if you’re not doing them yourself.”

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Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications