BOISE – Erin Morden hasn’t set any program records.
Earned any weekly awards.
Been an NCAA Regional Championship participant.
Or even posted a top individual finish at a meet of any kind.
Heck the senior has only competed in one event during her four-year career with the Broncos.
Still, the Boise State gymnast has come to embody what the storied program of nine conference championships, 14 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances and multiple Top-25 rankings is all about
“That’s the kind of kid we want on the team. Someone that’s passionate about our sport because it just brings a positive energy to the team whether you’re competing or not,” Boise State gymnastics coach Tina Bird said. “A lot of kids couldn’t handle that. She’s just been a really positive force for us to have in the gym.”
Morden and the Broncos (0-4) have their home opener against Southern Utah Friday at 7 p.m. inside ExtraMile Arena.
Despite making the Western National Team and regionals during her time with Aftershock Gymnastics out of Palm Desert, CA., Morden didn’t receive a single college offer. But not ready to leave the sport she had participated in since the age of 4, she reached out to Boise State assistant coach Patty Resnick, who had helped her with her floor routines growing up. Resnick connected her with Bird, and Morden became the first gymnast in the Palm Springs area to go Division I by walking on.
“That was kind of like my only option,” Morden said. “I was like, ‘I’ll do whatever. I just want to be on a team.’ And to go D1 too, was really an accomplishment for me.”
Morden redshirted her freshman year before finally getting an opportunity in the season opener at Oregon State on Jan. 15, 2021. Boise State turned to her for floor exercise the week of the meet after running into some roster depth issues. She had to learn a brand new floor pass, too.
While the coronavirus pandemic only allowed for cardboard cutouts of people to be in the stands, Morden still relished the moment.
“It’s my dream to compete,” Morden said. “So being able to have an opportunity like that, is just really cool.”
But it also ended up being a little bittersweet.
She scored a 9.2, but landed awkwardly on her final pass. The result was an ankle sprain, which kept her out for the rest of the season. With Morden not being able to crack into the starting rotation last year, the meet remains the only one she’s ever competed in to date.
However, still a walk-on and without any guarantees of competing, Morden, who is an elementary education major, returned for her senior season even with a loaded schedule that now includes student teaching sixth graders at Whittier Elementary School.
“I just love it too much,” Morden said. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years now, so it’s hard to see my life without it. Even if I’m not making lineups, it’s still enjoyable to do at the same time.”
Morden still attends every practice, meet and even offers advice to fellow teammates like junior Emily Lopez, who has just collected back-to-back Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Specialist of the week awards.
“She’s really developed into a great leader as a senior,” Bird said. “She steps up. She knows what we need to get done. She knows how to rally the troops to get it done. It’s just really neat to see that growth over the last few years. She’s someone that the team looks to. … And that really speaks to her character.”
Morden’s endurance has paid off, though.
She was one of 150 students to receive $2,500 in tuition from the College Football Playoff Foundation and Dr. Pepper as part of the Go Teach Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway in November. That also made her eligible for the grand prize of an additional $10,000 scholarship. Each of the 11 conferences name just one recipient for it. Morden was the Mountain West’s selection, which was revealed during halftime of the MW championship game between Boise State and Fresno State on Dec. 3, 2022.
But Morden thought she had only won and was just being recognized for the $2,500 grant. Nevertheless, she was instead handed a check for $10,000 and announced as the winner in front of more than 24,000 fans at Albertsons Stadium. And the emotions of the last four years came pouring out.
“Most of my team is on scholarships, so it’s always been like, ‘OK, gotta pay for rent, gotta pay for my school, gotta pay for my books,’” Morden said. “So getting a little bit of support like this, it’s so big. It’s gonna pay for my semester and help me get through it. It’s really important to me.
“It’s all worth it now. All of this has come together.”
And now Morden might finally be making a long-awaited return to competition.
While she didn’t participate in the Broncos’ first two meets of the season, there is a chance she sees action for the first time in more than two years Friday. Bird said she’s expecting her to earn a spot in the lineup “any time now” in either the balance beam or the uneven bars. But Morden did have to give up her floor routine. She misses most of practice three days a week due to her ongoing student teaching schedule.
Although Morden still has another year of eligibility left, this will be her last go-around with Boise State. She will graduate in December and expects to start teaching full-time shortly after. So the Broncos are hoping to send her off on a high note.
Boise State began the season ranked 26th. It brought back several returners, including Lopez and junior Courtney Blackson. Lopez is tied for the fifth-best average beam score in the country at 9.912. She also owns the 12th-best average in bars with Blackson at 9.912. The Broncos rank 14th nationally on the beam at 49.125.
Although Boise State is off to its worst start in at least 11 years, its losses have all come to quality teams. The Broncos began the season Jan. 14 at the Wasatch Classic in Utah against No. 6 UCLA, No. 18 Minnesota and No. 25 Washington. The 195.050 score was still their best season-opening mark in two years. They then lost narrowly at MRGC rival BYU 195.475-195.300 a week ago.
But Bird still likes where the team is at and feels the goal of advancing to day two of Regionals – a place Boise State has never been before – is more than obtainable.
“I think it’s not a stretch at all,” Bird said. “We’ve got to put it together sooner than later now. We’ve had a couple of meets where we got our feet wet. And we’ve got to start really hitting now. But I definitely think we’re capable.”
Morden doesn’t know if she’ll ever get to experience the feeling of competing at an NCAA Regional. And that’s perfectly ok with her. Because even without it, she still fulfilled her dream of being a Division I gymnast.
“It’s been a big piece of my life. It’s meant a lot of things to me in different ways. And I think it shaped me into the person that I am today,” Morden said. “I’m just really thankful that I had the opportunity to do gymnastics and do it at such a high level as Boise State’s program is.”