Kelsey McGovern looks to return to form coming off an ACL tear

By Anthony Chiusano

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Handling draw controls for the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team is nothing new for senior defender Kelsey McGovern.

However, heading into the first round of the last year’s NCAA Tournament against Connecticut, McGovern found herself facing off against more than just the Huskies’ draw control specialist. She was also battling a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

McGovern injured her knee in the Minutewomen’s regular season finale against Duquesne just two weeks prior to the game against UConn, forcing her to miss the Atlantic 10 Tournament, which UMass won for the fifth consecutive season.

Electing to delay surgery until after the season was over, McGovern returned to her starting position on defense against the Huskies, and was at her usual spot on the draw controls.

“I was just really excited to get back into a game and be back on the field with my teammates,” McGovern said. “My mindset was just to not think about my injury and to do the best that I could to try to be effective and help my team.”

McGovern almost played for the Huskies when current UMass coach Angela McMahon was at the helm, but opted to join the fourth-year coach in Amherst. Given her familiarity with the team and the program, there was no way she was missing that game.

“Being that Katie [Ferris] and I came with Angela from UConn, it was exciting because we knew all their players and it was kind of a special game for us,” McGovern said.

McGovern finished the game with eight draw control wins, as the Minutewomen won 14-10 to advance to the second round of the tournament.

“It was just the will and motivation to help her team in any way, shape or form that she could,” McMahon said. “She knew that (draw control) was one specific thing that she could still do and do well. She stepped up and did it.”

Along with her continued effectiveness on face-offs, McMahon said the simple fact that McGovern was even on the field “basically only on one knee” inspired the Minutewomen.

“I think it was just a huge moment for our team, where everyone just came together,” McMahon said. “We were playing to win, but we were also playing for her. She deserved our best game as a team, and I think we helped give it to her.”

McMahon added that the team made it a point to protect McGovern, who took note of her teammates’ extra protection. She said they did a good job of boxing out for her and popping out for her passes, although playing on a torn ACL “was kind of a scary feeling.”

However, when asked if she had any regrets on coming back to play, McGovern’s answer was unwavering.

“No, not at all,” she said. “I would have done it again.”

The recovery

Dealing with a torn ACL wasn’t an unfamiliar experience for McGovern. She suffered the same injury as a junior in high school, so she was comfortable with the recovery process and knew her limits.

McGovern is almost seven months removed from surgery and appears to have gone through a smooth recovery period.

“I would say it was pretty smooth. But it was mentally difficult having to do it again, knowing what I had to put myself through,” McGovern said. “The first time you go around, you tell yourself hopefully this will never happen to you again, but it did unfortunately.”

According to McMahon, McGovern has been “playing fantastic every day in practice” in large part because of her work during December.

“During the winter break, she was working every day toward improving her strength, agility and fitness and playing as much lacrosse as she could which, obviously being in Massachusetts in December, is not always easy to find places to play,” McMahon said. “But she was constantly finding fields and indoor facilities and getting not only her teammates to come play with her but also girls she knows from other teams that might be from the New England area.

“She was really getting them on board to come play, which helped her then come here and really be able to practice full go,” she added.

Although she is satisfied with her progress in practice, McGovern said that she’s looking forward to the beginning of the regular season in order to truly test her readiness.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m 100 percent yet, but I think once we start the season and I get into game situations, I’ll be able to start feeling more like 100 percent,” McGovern said.

Senior leadership

With seven returning seniors this season, there is no scarcity of experience and leadership on UMass. And McMahon thinks McGovern is one of the players who fit the role.

“She’s one of the best communicators on our team in terms of on-the-ball and being able to multitask and to instruct other players while also doing her job and playing her girl,” McMahon said. “Obviously, as a defense, you have to all be connected and know what’s going on and having each other’s backs. So, I think she’s the ultimate sort of team player.”

Due to her leadership abilities, McGovern was chosen as the UMass athletic department’s female representative at the 2013 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum last November in Providence, R.I.

It was a chance for McGovern to meet other athletes around the country and “look deeper into myself as a leader and learn how to deal with other types of leadership styles and how you can use that to make a better team,” she said.

The experience may be beneficial to McGovern’s future as well. She coaches a youth team based out of Maynard and has already come to McMahon with questions about college coaching.

“A lot of other seniors right now at UMass are just thinking about what they’re doing the next day, and she’s already planning her life,” McMahon said. “I just think that shows what a driven and motivated player she really is.”

“It’s definitely in my post-grad plan,” McGovern said. “By mentoring some of the younger girls, I guess that’s kind of the coaching aspect, so yes, I hope I can get into coaching and that someone would want me to help them out and be on their team to give a little input.”

High expectations

The Minutewomen’s 2013 season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 12-9 loss to Penn State.

After five straight A-10 championships, McGovern said that winning the conference is “expected at this point” and that the next step for this season is to “work hard to make it a little further in the (NCAA) Tournament.”

As for individual goals, after recording a UMass single season record 110 draw controls last year, McGovern said that coming off her injury, she is just focusing on working toward getting into game shape.

Then, she said, she expects to continue to “help create turnovers and get some draws to send the ball the other way.”

With her last season ahead, McGovern said this year has a little extra meaning to her.

“Being a senior, you get a little sentimental about your season and about being at college,” McGovern said. “I’m excited, but I’m focusing on each day and every moment, because everything counts and every practice is special. I’m not trying to take anything for granted.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.