MISSOULA — Whitney Morrison has a goal.
Well, in a way she has many goals, ones she has scored over her three years as a soccer standout at Missoula Big Sky.
But one overarching goal reigns supreme in her mind and drives her daily. Morrison hopes to one day serve her country at a United States military academy, a dream both unique and challenging.
The rewards, however, are tough to beat.
"Just being set for life was the big thing that really hit me," Morrison said. "I won't have to be in debt with student loans and all of that. And all of the insurance and all of the benefits that come with being in the military were appealing."
Morrison is a standout in soccer and track and field for the Eagles. When it comes to having a preference in college, she said she's leaning toward track because more track coaches have reached out to her.
But in talking about possibly competing in a college sport, it was then that Morrison revealed her aspirations to attend a military academy.
Her first choice for the military is the Air Force and Morrison said she will visit the Air Force Academy on Sept. 5. She said the Air Force wants her for track as does the Naval Academy with the latter also talking to her a little bit about soccer.
Morrison began to realize last spring during her junior year of track that a career in the military could be for her. She received a letter from the Naval Academy, piquing her interest.
After researching what the military offered and speaking to those who have experienced it firsthand, Morrison decided she'd commit to it and began the application process.
Military academies are as prestigious as they are difficult, but Morrison's outlook is positive and forward-thinking as she begins to take steps toward accomplishing her dream.
"Honestly, by telling myself it's going to be worth it in the end," she said. "It's going to be hard at first but once you get out then you're set."
Morrison will head into her senior year of high school with high hopes and goals for herself and for her teams. This summer, she competed at the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, California, where she placed second in javelin.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking. I got there and all of the girls there were ripped and intimidating," Morrison said with a laugh. "I got up there, just skinny little me, and I was supposed to take seventh in javelin so I kept my expectations low."
But her goal was to at least place in the top eight to earn All-America honors.
"I just happened to throw a personal best and took second," Morrison, who threw 134 feet, 1 inch, said. "Honestly I didn't really believe it at first. They read it in meters and I wasn't sure how far the meters was in feet. But then my mom told me and I was pretty excited."
From the javelin to the jumping events to sprints and mid-distance races, Morrison competes everywhere for the Eagles. She said the Air Force has talked to her about triple jump and javelin as well as the heptathlon.
Some athletes might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of events. But that's exactly how Morrison prefers it.
"I kind of like being overwhelmed. It sounds weird but I like being stressed and pushed," Morrison said. "That's part of the reason why I would want to go into the military because it's hard. I like doing all of those events."
On the soccer pitch, Morrison was thrown into the fire from her freshman year where she started almost immediately for Big Sky's soccer team. She admits she was timid at first, but as time went on, she found her voice on the field and has since developed into one of the team's leaders.
By the time her sophomore year rolled around, she felt more comfortable on the pitch. Her older sister, Mackenzie Morrison, who was a captain on the team, was a big part of that.
"She is the most humble, puts the team first, player. She always puts others in front of her," third-year Big Sky girls soccer coach Courtney Shields said. "Because of that, it allows her to not think selfishly. She scores a lot of goals but she's a very unselfish player."
Last year as a junior, Morrison starred as Big Sky made it all the way to the state championship game where it ultimately fell to Billings Skyview. Morrison ended the season with 19 goals in the regular season — which led all of Class AA — before ending the season with 21 total goals to tie for the state's lead. Morrison added nine assists as well.
"Honestly, not thinking about it I think helped me a lot because whenever I'm in front of the goal and I think about it too hard I'll kick it way over or way far to the side," Morrison said. "Just keeping calm and composed in front of the goal is key for me."
Going forward, it's all about focusing on this final go-around with Big Sky and leaving last year's results in the past. Morrison is one of six seniors for Big Sky — including Gianna Migliaccio, Jadyn Campbell, Anna Farago, Dani Rodli and Hannah Santamaria — and they hold high hopes for the 2019 season. The Eagles have custom shirts with T/E to symbolize "task over ego" as this year's motto to indicate their commitment to being a true team to reach their goals.
"I think what she's going to do this year is be more of a distributor because she wants other people to have the recognition," Shields said. "She's humble, kind and fierce on the soccer field. Like no mercy. But, when you talk about sportsmanship, she's always been our MVP, and she earns it.
"She's just the most valuable, kindest soul that you just want to be around. She's incredible. She just represents what an All-American athlete should be."
Morrison knows what she wants to accomplish later in life. But for now, she's excited to do anything she can to push the Eagles over the top.
"I think we just can't settle for second. We were all pretty hungry after the state game," Morrison said. "We were happy that we got second but we were also disappointed that we couldn't get first, so we're hungry for that."
"We were still pretty proud of ourselves for getting second. We kept that in our minds but we want to move on and work for first."