Penn Hills grad returns from injury to help nationally ranked Wingate volleyball
As a standout player on the Penn Hills girls volleyball team, Cory McGowan was a high-flying hitter known for her athletic ability and dominating offense.
Nowadays, McGowan is a self-professed “glue” player who is happy to set up her teammates for nationally ranked Wingate University.
It wasn’t competition at the next level that forced McGowan into a new role. It was an injury.
On Nov. 1, 2012, against Tusculum, McGowan, then a junior, landed awkwardly and tore her ACL, MCL, PCL and lateral meniscus.
She also fractured her femur.
“I pretty much blew my knee out,” said McGowan, who was a WPIAL all-star in 2009, her senior season playing for Penn Hills. “I’ve been working really hard going on two years now.”
As a sophomore, McGowan was an All-South Atlantic Conference player who earned All-National honors from COBRA Magazine after racking up double-digit kill totals 19 times.
Wingate coach Shelton Collier compared McGowan’s adjustment to a fastball pitcher who loses velocity and is forced to rely on accuracy.
“It’s very rewarding to see,” he said. “Frankly, some athletes don’t come back from such a devastating injury. It’s hard for her when she can’t do what she used to do, but she’s learned what she needs to do to help us win.”
Collier, who was named SAC Coach of the Year for a record eighth-consecutive season, coached the Pitt women’s volleyball team from 1980-88. One of his former players and current Shaler coach Kris Ruppert led him to McGowan.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a record of 28-2 overall and 21-1 in conference play to claim the SAC title.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association had the Bulldogs ranked No. 12 in the nation as of its Nov. 10 Division-II poll.
McGowan is among the team leaders in digs (247), kills (113), assists (23) and blocks (22).
“I definitely feel like I know what it takes to win in this league, and I’m able to execute what I know,” McGowan said.
One of her shining moments this season came against Tusculum, the team she was injured against two years ago, when McGowan registered a match-high 14 digs.
Wingate won the match and snapped the Pioneers’ nine-match winning streak.
Sitting out for so long did have one advantage for McGowan. It allowed her to better understand the game.
“When you sit out, you get more of a coaching feel,” she said. “I was seeing what I would do in certain situations and shadow behind certain positions (from the sideline). I definitely got a different perspective.”
No matter how bleak her recovery seemed — and she admits she wondered if she would ever be able to play again — McGowan was always there for her team.
“Sometimes when a player is injured it can be easy to falter off, but I traveled with the team and they were really supportive of me,” said McGowan, who is on track to graduate in December with a degree in Human Services. “I was just eager to get back out there and help my team because they were there for me.”
Ed Phillipps is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.