The road back from injuries is a difficult walk for athletes. Meagan McCall has walked it twice.
The Phoenix, Arizona native tore her right ACL in her senior year of high school, but still went on to play Division I beach volleyball at Georgia State University.
In her sophomore year with the Panthers, the injury bug came back for her. McCall tore her left ACL and was forced to sit the entire season.
However, she worked her way back once again and was set to take the beach the following season before the coronavirus put a stop to it.
“My mom, my coaches, and my teammates were my biggest support systems through both injuries. My mom especially, was there for everything and helped me do everything the first few days after surgery, which is not an easy job,” McCall said. “She never doubted that I couldn’t do it, and that gave me confidence. She also was always there to talk me through my bad days and days that I was struggling.”
McCall grew up playing beach volleyball in the summer just for fun when she didn’t have her indoor season. Despite both being played with a volleyball, each sport is different.
Indoor volleyball involves six players on the court, while beach has just two. It also is played among the outdoor elements, which brings an aspect to the game that indoor cannot.
“A huge difference is that it’s an outdoor sport, so we get to practice in all the conditions. The only way anything is postponed is if there’s lightening,” McCall said. “Rain and wind can play a huge role in your success or failure in a game.”
It is also more of a strategic game too, as you must learn a lot of defensive plays, different sets, and trick plays. It’s a lot of how you can get your opponent to think you’re running one thing and then having them hit into your defense.
The sport means a great deal to those who hit in the sand, especially to McCall.
“Beach volleyball means so much to me. It’s an escape for me where I can take a break from the stresses of classes and anything else I have going on that day, and I get to be with 16 of my best friends,” McCall said. “It’s something I’ve always been passionate about and know I will stay passionate about in years to come.”
McCall’s first ACL tear came in her high school senior indoor volleyball season. She and her team at Sandra Day O’Connor were playing in the Goldwater tournament, and played the first tournament day at home.
She went up to hit an out of system ball and landed on only her right leg.
“I felt a pop and I collapsed; I knew that I had done something bad. Luckily, since we were at home, I got to be checked out by my athletic trainer that I trusted and was super close with,” McCall said. “She told me right away that she couldn’t diagnose me, but I hadn’t passed the Lachman’s test, which is the test they do to see if your ACL is still intact.”
Before suffering her injury, McCall made the final four of the Arizona High School State Beach Volleyball Playoffs, was named 2016 team MVP, reached Gold Division in AAU Nationals, AAU Junior Olympics, and BVCA, was a three-time letter winner in court volleyball and her team made the 6A D1 playoffs in each of her three seasons.
But before tearing her ACL, McCall had already committed to Georgia and the coach told her that her spot on the team would not be compromised.
“All of my teammates were super supportive and reached out to me before I even got there,” McCall said. “For me, there was never really a moment where I thought about quitting, I just knew I wanted to come back stronger.”
She then worked her way back to playing ability before her freshman year at Georgia began.
“My recovery was really smooth, I had a lot of trouble with atrophy in my quad muscle and gaining that back, but I didn’t have too much pain other than in the graft site in the front of my knee,” McCall said. “I really struggled with not being able to do stuff because of the rehab protocol from my surgeon.”
After making her recovery, she suited up in two shades of blue and walked barefoot onto the Georgia sand.
“It’s an unbelievable experience to play D1. It’s something I knew I wanted to do since I was 12 or 13, so it’s just surreal sometimes,” McCall said. “I think that you get to learn so many valuable life lessons and get so many opportunities through this sport, especially at the D1 level. I’ve also built so many friendships that I know I’ll have for a lifetime. For me, I’ve grown so much as a person in my time at GSU.”
In her freshman year with the Panthers, McCall participated in seven dual matches, won six matches in the three position, earned a 5-1 record in the three spot, won three of four home matches and was victorious in six of her last seven matches.
She won her first career match in straight sets on February 24th against Eckerd.
“It was great. I worked really hard and had a good off season, but I went into my freshman year season not really expecting to play that much,” McCall said. “I had just come off an injury and we had six seniors/grad students. It was just a great feeling to have a win under my belt, to have the nerves out, and to have confidence in myself.”
Going into her sophomore year, she was confident in herself and the experience she had. The fall went really well for her and she just felt great in all areas of the game.
“I really wanted a solid spot in our lineup,” McCall said. “That was my goal for that season.”
She then tore her left ACL a week before the season started.
“There was a lot going through my mind. I was devastated. I felt like everything I had worked so hard for had been ripped away from me,” McCall said. “I was really upset, but there was never a thought in my mind that I couldn’t do it. I knew I got through it once and I could get through it again.”
The rehab the second time around was significantly harder for McCall. During her surgery, they found out that she had torn her meniscus and sprained her MCL and LCL on top of tearing her ACL.
She woke up from her surgery to find out that she was going to be on crutches non-weight bearing for six weeks. After her first ACL tear, she was able to walk without crutches three days after surgery. Her rehab was a whole month and a half of only being able to do non-weight bearing exercises.
“It was hard. It was even harder not being able to travel with my team for the first three weeks. My coach was there any time I needed anything, and also knew what I was going through because she had also had two ACL tears,” McCall said. “My teammates were always there to take my mind off of my injury. It was nice to have them to make sure I was still involved in things even though I wasn’t involved in the volleyball part.”
Since she got surgery in February of last year, she was only six months from the start of the next season, and only five months out since she got off crutches, so she still had a long way to go in her rehab.
Since it was her second surgery, her surgeon was a lot stricter about clearing her for anything. So, she was mainly focused on doing her best in the weight room to get her strength back and watching as much volleyball as she could.
“Watching and breaking down the game helps grow your game so much,” McCall said. “It was the little things I looked forward to, like if I could give 110% in weights and helping watch film and scout, I was still helping my team and myself get better.”
After working her way back from injury for a second time, McCall and her Georgia teammates found out that their season was cancelled due to the coronavirus during a flight to California for their spring break tournaments.
“I was really upset. I was sad because all of my family was going to be able to watch me play for the first time in almost two years and because we were finally playing on the west coast. I was also sad because I felt like I had two seasons in a row just vanish from me,” McCall said. “However, I was most of all devastated for our seniors and grad students. I’m really close with all of them and they never got a proper senior day or anything. It was heart breaking.”
Listed as a redshirt sophomore, McCall has three more years of eligibility to play since she has a medical redshirt year and a coronavirus redshirt year.
She is looking to continue playing beach volleyball at Georgia next season, and may eventually play closer to home while getting her master’s degree.
“I’m really excited for this next year because I feel really prepared and eager to compete. I am so ready to be back out on the sand and move up in the rankings,” McCall said. “I want to go to Nationals, and I believe our team can do it.”
After bouncing back from injury twice and competing at the Division I level, McCall has a message for all those who must walk the road to recovery.
“For any athlete going through an injury, I think the most important advice I would give them is to never give up and to not forget how bad you want it, how bad you wanted to get where you are and how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are,” McCall said. “You have to keep fighting and pushing yourself even on the days that are hard, because unfortunately, there are more hard days than easy ones. You get the chance to prove so many people wrong and have a comeback story. It’s all about perspective and finding what motivates you. Anyone can do it, but it’s the people that want it bad enough and push themselves the hardest that come out better than before.”