Country Christian senior Meghan McGrath has the chance to do something very few athletes have ever done: win four state championships in high school.
McGrath, a four-year starter, along with the six other returning seniors on this year's volleyball squad, are working to secure their spot among the elite teams and individuals in high school sports history.
But McGrath's path to the history books won't be a smooth one.
During a playoff basketball game last season against Damascus Christian in February, McGrath suffered an injury that makes most athletes shudder at the thought of: she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that has sidelined players of all sports for months, and sometimes plagues them for the rest of their careers. She also tore her meniscus along with an exterior ligament, and both had to be repaired along with the ACL.
Injuries like that happen at the strangest times, and often during situations in which one has practiced or played in hundreds of times. In this instance, McGrath was going in for a lay-in on a fast break down the court, when she moved to cut around a defender coming her way, planted her leg, and felt her knee cave in.
Despite the injury, McGrath is determined not to let it define her.
She's been hard at work putting in countless hours during her rehabilitation process, which can be grueling, especially since her surgery involved using a hamstring graft from her own body; she has to not only develop and strengthen the ligaments in her knee, but also the muscles in her hamstrings as well.
McGrath may not even be ready to play until midway through the season; her beginning routine to routine to play begins in about three weeks, and then the process from then on could take anywhere from three to six weeks until she is cleared to play.
Her rehab process has been going as well as it can be, and she's pushing to be ready to play as soon as her body allows for it without moving too fast and risking re-injury.
"My motivation pretty much is sports, obviously I love volleyball, so I really want to play, and having that little time at the beginning of not being able to play is kind of rough," McGrath said. "But it also motivates me to push myself and hope to get better fast."
McGrath said the support she's received from her friends and family during the rehab process has helped her remain mentally strong. She said being part of the small, tight-knit community at Country Christian has helped immensely.
"I even get texts from teachers saying like 'Hey, I hope everything is going OK,' so it's really nice to have that support from people, and it keeps me mentally strong," she said.
McGrath said perhaps the biggest thing she's learned from the rehab process is to keep moving.
"It happened and there's no going back to fix it, so you've pretty much just got to stay motivated going forward," she said.
The chance at history
McGrath's shot at winning four straight state championships with her team is something that she said she thinks about all the time.
"I do think about it all the time, and also knowing that it's my last year, it makes me super excited and want to push for it more," she said.
She said her expectations for the season for herself and first and foremost getting healthy enough to play, along with keeping up with her exercises throughout the season.
McGrath said her expectation for the team is to repeat again and take their fourth state title.
"The team is obviously different every year, so I'm just excited to see what this team is going to bring, the togetherness that we have, and to push to win and get another one," she said.
The key to Country Christian's success in the past is no secret; it's the same as most other teams that have experienced high levels of success: chemistry.
"We're pretty much always together, either in class, playing sports, and we just all get along very well, so it's really nice to have that," McGrath said.
"My absolutely favorite part about my team is that yes, they're sad for me and wish I could be out on the court with them, but they don't let it phase them, so they will just continue improving and doing what they do best, but they won't let my injury phase them," she said.
The player-coach relationship
When it comes to having her mother, Janin McGrath, as her coach, Meghan said there has always been clear boundaries in place. When they're on the court, Meghan is just like any other one of Janin's players, and when they're at home, they don't talk volleyball unless Meghan brings it up.
They said these boundaries have allowed them to keep their different relationships separate and not allow either one to bleed into the other. Not too much, at least.
"I started that with Courtney [McGrath], and it worked well, although it's not always successful on the court, and we have a couple of kids who are able to say, 'Hey, that looks like a mother-daughter moment," Janin said.
"Before every season, she always tells me, 'On the court I'm your coach, and at home I'm your mom,' so as soon as I step on the court, it's not like 'Mom this hurts,' it's 'Coach, this hurts, can you help me?' or if I'm frustrated, I'm not getting mad at her for yelling at me because she's my mom, I'm pushing through it because she's my coach, but then at home she's my mom, so we make a deal," Meghan said.
Janin said while sometimes it can be difficult to balance their two relationships, she tells herself that she's coaching for more than one player.
"So when you step on the floor, if Meghan is going to benefit the team by moving to a different position, she might not want that, but I have to think about the other 20 kids, and I tell kids that all the time, that when you come to me with something, I have to take into account the whole team and not just you," Janin said.
After high school
McGrath said she's thought about playing volleyball at the next level, but she isn't sure just yet.
She does have a couple schools in mind so far, though – Corban University in Portland or Western Oregon University in Monmouth, and she said she wants to study Elementary Education.
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