Lawrence High swimmer and diver Ryan Morris before a meet at the high school on Dec. 19, 2017. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrota.)

Maybe the toughest thing that Ryan Morris’s family had to endure when he was a kid was getting out of the desert.

“When I was very young, I always looked forward to swimming at my grandparents’ pool in Arizona during spring break,” Morris said. “I have always loved being in the water. My parents frequently had trouble getting me to leave the water wherever we went.”

Somehow, they managed to get their aqua man out of the pool and back to New Jersey, which was good news for the Lawrence High School swim team. Now a senior, Morris has been one of the most versatile swimmers in the Colonial Valley Conference during his career.

“He’s the kind of kid you can literally put anywhere depending on strengths of the other team,” coach Mike Underwood said. “You just say ‘Hey Ryan, I need you to win this’, and he’ll look at you and say ‘OK, I will.’ You know you’re gonna get his absolute best. It’s exciting. He is flat out pretty good with anything. He could be a distance swimmer, he could do any stroke and do well in a dual meet, and maybe be top 12 at most of those events at the MCT. We’re really, really lucky to have his versatility.”

As a sophomore, Morris made the MCT B cut in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly and finished second in both. Last year he made the A cut in the 200 IM and finished sixth. He is also part of the Cardinals 200 medley relay and 400 free relay teams, and the 200 MR made the A cut last year. In dual meets, he has been invaluable.

Because he is good at every stroke, Morris has not had the opportunities to focus on just one or two events to become great at them.

“That is probably true but it really doesn’t bother me because it is nice to post decent times in a lot of different events,” Morris said. “I have found that my ability to do multiple strokes while also diving competitively has sparked special interest at colleges where I have applied.”

Indeed, a guy like Morris is a coach’s dream. Underwood has no problem putting him in the IM, the 100 free, the backstroke or the butterfly. If he had to, he would not hesitate to put him elsewhere.

Morris welcomes that, as he is all about the team.

“He’s a balanced swimmer and he’s not selfish,” Underwood said. “He’s the kind of kid that wants us to do well as a team and wherever he has to fit to make that happen, he’s willing to do it. He’s just a kid that a coach loves having because it’s always team first.”

Not surprisingly, Morris lists the IM as his favorite event because it includes every stroke. And he doesn’t just swim—he was a member of the Cardinals diving team that won the Mercer County title last year.

It all started when he was a mere 2-year-old, which is when he first got in the pool. He began competitive swimming at age 10 with the Ben Franklin Swim Club in the summer and with Pennington Aquatics and the Stingrays of Lawrenceville Prep in the fall and winter.

Upon arriving at Lawrence, he played JV soccer for two years before moving to cross country in the fall. He plays lacrosse in the spring.

While at Ben Franklin, Morris fell in love with the family atmosphere of a swim team and knew it was something he wanted to do in high school. His background and the ability to do other sports has helped his progress.

“I thank Coach (Lynn) Shields at Pennington Aquatics for getting me into shape prior to each high school swim season,” Morris said. “I have also found running cross country in the fall during the last two years has helped me get in strong aerobic shape before the Lawrence swim season.”

Underwood said that Morris made an immediate impact as a freshman due to his ability to get dual meet points in so many different events. Morris has been the team’s top IM man and the coach feels he will take first or second in any other event he swims.

It’s not easy, and it’s not common.

“It’s an inner drive, it’s a focus,” Underwood said. “He always listens to critiques that I or the other coaches give him, he takes that critique to heart. He actually tries it and doesn’t just give you the roll of the eyes like ‘Yeah, yeah coach, I’ll do that,’ and then not even try it. He wants to be as good as he possibly can.

“He’s a big kid, he has great strength, great tools. He knows he’s not perfect, he wants to get better and takes all coaching tips seriously and you can see him using them. We as coaches feel really good when we have a kid like this who wants to get better and wants to listen and will do anything they possibly can to make the team better.”

Morris said there is no secret to what makes him so adaptable to every event. It’s the age old recipe to success—hard work.

“The trick is to continue working on all the strokes and striving for constant improvement,” he said. “I work very hard at every practice and want to swim whatever stroke the team needs. I completely trust Coach Underwood to place me and my teammates in the best events at every meet.”

That work ethic is in place on dry land as well. As an Eagle scout, Morris volunteers his time to the community. He plays alto saxophone in the band and baritone sax in the jazz band, and is a member of the LHS National Honor Society, Student Leadership, Teen PEP Squad and Tri-M, the music honor society. He also makes a buck as a diving coach, lifeguard and giving swim lessons.

Morris’s coaching comes with the Ben Franklin diving team. He dives at The College of New Jersey with the East Coast Diving Masters on Sundays and takes pride in what the Cardinals dive team has done since the program was resurrected his freshman year.

“Last year was exciting that we won the Mercer County banner despite not having dive practices like several other schools that compete in our region,” he said.

Morris is looking to major in biology and also hopes to swim in college, and is still narrowing his choices. And while Underwood will be sorry to see him go, he feels his replacement is already on the team in the form of freshman Dylan Morris.

“I can see a lot of the qualities Ryan had as a freshman in his younger brother,” the coach said. “It’s exciting to see we have another Morris here who’s a carbon copy. You can see what you’re getting for the next three years and it’s exciting.”

Morris agrees with that assessment, saying, “I think Dylan is very much like me when it comes to swimming, and is extremely competitive. His favorite event is also the 200 IM. He is such a hard worker and puts in over 100 percent every day. I think he will develop into a key swimmer for the years to come.”

If he takes after big brother, then that is a foregone conclusion.