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Morris' wild NCAA-title ride

La Cañada graduate helps Georgia take equestrian championship, and captures individual crown

June 23, 2010|By Andrew Shortall
  • Michelle Morris of La Canada is a championship equestrian athlete who competes for the University of Georgia. (Karen Jennings/UGA Sports Communications.
Michelle Morris of La Canada is a championship equestrian… ((Karen Jennings/UGA,…)

Michelle Morris was surprised when her mom handed her the May 24th issue of Sports Illustrated and she saw her name and face staring back at her with a small write-up.

Sports Illustrated included Morris in a "Faces in the Crowd" segment. The item chronicled how the La Cañada High graduate propelled the University of Georgia to win the NCAA Varsity Equestrian National Championship during a sudden-death ride-off.

"It's always our goal to get to that point and win the national championship," Morris said. "It was the most intense thing I have ever been through in my entire life. It was so exciting and a great way to end it, obviously."

When Morris was told she would be riding in the sudden-death ride-off to help the Georgia Bulldogs to a possible win in the national championship, she showed poise and came through, said Meghan Boenig, Morris' coach at Georgia.

"I'm sure she was panicking somewhere, but she never showed it," Boenig said. "She was able to go out there and beat her opponent by 30 points, which gave Texas A&M no chance to come back. It gave our whole team a huge breath."

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Somehow it got even better for Morris. Not only was she a part of a championship-winning team, but she also won the individual title in the event.

"The individual was actually really unexpected," Morris said. "It was something I knew was possible throughout the year, but it wasn't one of my main goals because it's almost as if you think about it — it doesn't happen. You just have to keep being consistent throughout the year."

This all sounds like the perfect ending to a dramatic senior season, but it's not. Morris, who turned 21 on June 20, was only a sophomore, and has two more years at Georgia.

Morris began her involvement in the sport by chance. While running errands with her mom, a 7-year old Morris spied a flier for a horse-riding camp, which ended up sparking her equestrian career. After attending the camp she told her mother she wanted to take riding lessons, and her interest evolved from there.

Soon, Morris was with a trainer in Chatsworth and at 13 she began training with Karen Healy in Thousand Oaks, who she still works with today. Healy's training reinforces the basics of riding and was influential in getting her experience in shows, Morris said.

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