MENLO — Katelyn McGough was dribbling downcourt when an opposing defender tried to strip the ball from her during the first day of summer 2019 basketball camp. The two players became tangled and McGough’s left knee twisted and popped.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think anything of it,” McGough said. “It really didn’t hurt that bad. It was kind of weird. It just felt like a giant pop, like if you don’t pop something in a long time and it pops.”

McGough soon realized she couldn’t bend or straighten her knee at all. She tried to lift herself off the court, but to no avail. Something was wrong, she thought. She had no idea how bad it truly was.

The first doctor she saw told her they thought it was her meniscus and she would just need a cortisone shot and would be back for volleyball in the fall. Then she had an MRI and learned it was an ACL tear and she’d be out for fall and winter sports.

It was a crushing blow to McGough, a three-sport standout at Willapa Valley who was on the cusp of entering her senior year. She was about to letter for her third year in volleyball and had played varsity basketball her junior year.

“It just didn’t seem real,” McGough said. “It didn’t quite hit me and it still is just now setting in that I didn’t get to play volleyball this year. Just kind of shell-shocked, I guess.”

But the real threat was losing softball, her favorite sport. 

McGough, a starter for the Titans since her freshman year, was coming off a junior season on the diamond where she was named first-team all-state outfielder, as well as first-team all-Central 2B League and was named to The Chronicle’s All-Area Team.

Those accolades were all thanks to an impressive hitting campaign where she batted .539 with a .622 on-base percentage and 1.092 slugging percentage. She scored 50 runs, blasted eight balls over the fence and notched eight more doubles.

More than anything, she wanted to be ready to go by spring softball season. McGough went under the knife and began powering through physical therapy.

Within two weeks she was doing basic at-home recovery workouts, such as leg lifts and clamshells. She would work on those every day for the next 39 weeks. On top of the home workouts, she was going to physical therapy twice a week in Centralia, a two-hour round-trip drive. After a while she began doing squats, and near the end was performing one-legged jumps and hitting off a tee.

During all this, she still had an important decision to make: which college was she going to continue her softball career at? She had plenty of options, but it was after a visit to Lower Columbia College that she found her new home. She signed her National Letter of Intent on Nov. 4, 2019.

 “It just seemed like a really good fit for me,” McGough said. “I really loved the coaches and they were really welcoming. I went on a visit and the assistant coach was like, ‘If you ever need anything you can always call me.’ It was just nice because you’re moving away and knowing you’re in good hands.”

It helped that LCC campus is just a 90-minute drive from her parent’s home in Menlo. McGough wanted the option of coming home for the holidays and watching her younger sister’s basketball and volleyball games.

McGough finished her knee treatments in just under nine months, which is about the average recovery-time for ACL surgery. She remembers the exact day she was cleared to play sports again with no restrictions: Feb. 26, 2020.

“It was a big day for me,” McGough said. “I was just really excited to play softball again.”

She was primed and ready to go for softball this spring and went to 12 practices before receiving news that the season was being canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The team had yet to play a single game.

She did get one final chance to play in her No. 8 Titans jersey on Wednesday, however, during the inaugural senior all-star game in Montesano. Four of her Titans teammates were there, including three on her all-star team, as McGough played centerfield for most the match. It was her first softball game in over a year.

Now she is looking forward to joining the Red Devils softball team, a squad that went 6-4, 1-1 during a 2020 season that was cut short due to COVID-19. LCC went 30-13 and finished third in the Northwest Athletic Conference during its last full season in 2019. The Red Devils won two games at the NWAC championships to finish seventh.

LCC has advanced to the postseason in 28 of its 30 seasons and coach Traci Fuller has racked up 212 wins in her nine seasons at the helm. The Red Devils lose nine sophomores from the 2020 squad.

McGough plans to enter the nursing program at Lower Columbia. Her LCC coaches told her most of her classes, other than those in the nursing program, will likely be online this fall. It’s not even certain if there will be softball this fall. It’s typically a shortened six-week season, unlike the full season each spring. Whatever happens, McGough is just grateful to be embarking on a new journey.

“I’m just really excited for all of it,” McGough said. “I’m excited to move out, have my own apartment with my friend and be able to go to school still, because I love school. Kind of a weird one. I’m just excited for all of it.”

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