Greenville native Sandi Morris reigns supreme in college pole vault

Perhaps it began with the insects and snakes and other critters she used to pluck from the back yard and plop down in mom’s laundry room, but Sandi Morris always has been somewhat, well, “different.”

“She was definitely a tomboy,” says her mom, Kerry. “And fearless.”

Presumably it’s that same spirit and fearlessness that has propelled Morris to the top of the collegiate pole vaulting world.

She’s a veritable high-flying hometown hero, if you will — a Greenville High graduate who’s still soaring after winning the national title at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships two weeks ago.

“I knew I had it in me the whole time,” said Morris, a senior at the University of Arkansas. “But it means the world to be able to say that I’m the national champion.”

Long before Sandi Morris discovered that she had a knack for proficiently propelling herself into the stratosphere, she discovered spiders and snakes and just about everything else that crept or crawled anywhere near the Morris house on North Main Street.

“It started with bugs when I was really little,” Morris said. “I’d pick up spiders and caterpillars, and it kind of morphed into this love for all animals. I grew up watching Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel and I thought I was going to marry Steve Irwin, I guess.”

Critters became part of the family. There were flying squirrels, chinchillas, a guinea pig, chameleons, crested geckos, blue-tongued skinks and a vast assortment of birds.

And, of course, plenty of snakes.

“I had parents who were willing to let me experiment,” Morris said.

Suffice to say the experiment is ongoing.

Morris may be a college senior, several states removed from home, but she’s still snake bit, if you will.

“I’ve always loved snakes the most,” Morris said.

Morris says she got her first “legit” pet snake when she was in the sixth grade. She still has “Fang,” a ball python, but the amateur herpetologist has since given Fang some company in the form of an additional ball python, two red-tailed boa constrictors and a pair of Brazilian rainbow boas.

Unfortunately, Borealis — a male rainbow boa — is currently on the lam. And the fact that the 5-foot-long reptile is no longer in his cage has put Morris’ roommate, fellow vaulter Megan Zimlich, a bit on edge.

“At first she was scared to open any doors or cabinets,” Morris said. “But she’s OK now.”

Morris fears the worst — namely, that Borealis has perished due to cold temperatures — but is maintaining hope.

“I’ve heard stories about snakes missing for three or four months, then showing up,” she said. “Maybe someday I’ll find him.”

Borealis may be missing, but he’s about the only thing Morris has lost this year.

She’s in the midst of her most rewarding season, both on and off the track. On Jan. 16, she broke the NCAA and school indoor record with a vault of 15 feet, 11/2inches during a home meet.

On March 9, Morris was selected the Southeastern Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in women’s track and field.

She capped that honor by winning the NCAA title less than a week later.

“It was finally my day,” Morris said.

The trek to the top of the podium indeed had been a long time coming for Morris.

As a youngster, she exhibited a penchant for running and jumping, which wasn’t surprising considering her father, Harry, was a pole vaulter at Western Illinois and her mother was a pentathlete at the same school.

By age 7, Morris was a sprinter with a local track club. In sixth grade, she was a hurdler for the Anderson Quick Striders team. In eighth grade, she was introduced to the pole vault and steadily began to prove that she was a natural in the event.

Under the tutelage of her father, as well as Greenville High volunteer coach Terry Wyatt and later pole vaulting guru Rusty Shealy, Morris made progress each and every year.

She cleared 8 feet, 6 inches as a freshman, 10 feet as a sophomore and won a state title by vaulting 12 feet as a junior. Morris set a still-standing state record of 12-7 as a senior, when she won her second state title.

Morris also was an all-state volleyball player, but opted to pursue a track career at the University of North Carolina. She finished 11th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a sophomore, then transferred to Arkansas after that season.

“I was unhappy both on and off the track,” she said.

Arkansas proved to be a perfect fit, and Morris began to thrive athletically and academically.

“I felt like I was fast and really strong and really dedicated,” Morris said. “And those are three things you can’t coach.”

Morris immediately began to see improved results, finishing fourth at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships. She took fourth place again at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2014, which only served to inspire her to greater heights.

“I knew that I didn’t have that much longer and I didn’t want to finish college without having won at least once,” Morris said. “I wanted to show the world who I really was.”

This year Morris has been doing just that.


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At the SEC Indoor Championships, she won the title with a personal-best vault of 15-3½ — 2 inches higher than her NCAA-winning effort — and more record heights could be forthcoming as she embarks on her final outdoor season before graduating in May.

A journalism major with an emphasis in broadcasting, she’d eventually love to embark on a career as a reporter. She’s naturally inquisitive, she says, loves keeping up with the news and has inherited the “gift of gab” from her mother, she claims.

But first there are several athletic endeavors on the schedule. She’ll compete in the World Championships in June and then pursue a long-held goal of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team.

“Her coach says she’s not even where she can be — she has room to grow,” Kerry said.

There’s no need to rush anything now. After all, her success appears to have been well worth the wait.

“I’m a big believer in fate and destiny,” Morris said. “Maybe there was a reason it took me so long.

“It’s kind of a relief knowing I’ve accomplished it, but at the same time I want to do it again. It’s kind of like a drug — you want that feeling again, that sense of accomplishment. I really want to go out with a bang.”

Perhaps nothing less should be expected from a fearless tomboy.




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