MCCORMICK NAMED FINALIST FOR V FOUNDATION COMEBACK AWARD

CARY, N.C. – Bethany College sophomore women’s basketball player Kaitlyn McCormick (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) has been selected as a finalist for the seventh annual V Foundation Comeback Award, which is presented by the V Foundation for Cancer Research, in conjunction with ESPN.
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The annual award is open to men and women collegiate basketball student-athletes in all NCAA divisions. It is awarded to an individual or a team who has accomplished a personal triumph in the face of true adversity, be it in health, life or moral dilemma.

Other finalists include Warren Carter from the University of Illinois, Ashley McMillen from Syracuse University, Lauren Mueller from Converse College, Michael Neal from the University if Oklahoma, Ralphanee’ Peyton from Wayne State University, Ann-Marie Thorp from Metro State College, Whitney Tyriver from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the United State Military Academy women’s basketball team.

The award is presented in memory of Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator, whose personal battle with cancer inspired the creation of The V Foundation. In his memorable speech at ESPN’s inaugural ESPY Awards announcing the creation of The V Foundation, Valvano’s “Don’t Give Up. . .Don’t Ever Give Up!”® motto created a legacy from which the Comeback Award has been created.

McCormick made a triumphant return to the court this season after sitting out the first year and a half of her college career because of injuries. She went through three ankle surgeries in high school and a fourth during her freshman year of college, which kept her from suiting up for the Bison. Even though it was difficult not playing, McCormick remained active with the program, as she was a scorebook keeper/manager as a freshman and was serving as more of a student-assistant coach through the first half of her sophomore season.

“As an athlete, not being able to do something you’ve done your whole life was heart-breaking,” said McCormick. “But I really wanted to stay involved for a couple reasons. First was because of the team. We became like sisters during my first attempt to play, so I wanted to stay around them. And secondly was because I’ve been around the game all my life, so I had to stay apart of it, even though at times I thought it was harder to watch from the sidelines than to not be around it at all.”

Then during this past holiday break, two players left the Bison program, which prompted a conversation between McCormick, who had previously thought about trying to play again, and Bethany head coach Rebecca Upton about the sophomore making a return to the floor.

“We knew Kaitlyn was a talented guard in high school but we didn’t realize what a competitor she was,” said Upton. “Even when she was sitting out, it bothered her to see us losing. So we thought by asking her to come back, she would bring a much-needed spark and give us everything she had, whether it was for five minutes or 35 minutes.”

Although she had the drive to don a Bison uniform, for McCormick to actually make that step would take a remarkable level of commitment. To help rehab her ankle, she would spend time in the training room before and/or after every practice receiving treatment. And to keep the stress on her injury to a minimum, McCormick was forced to sit out many drills in practice. That meant in order for her conditioning to be where it was needed, she would spend extra time in the school’s fitness center working out on her own, although by season’s end, McCormick’s competitive desires took charge.

“If I was having a good day, I could sometimes just take an ice bag home with me after practice,” said McCormick. “If my ankle was sore through the day, I would spend about 30 minutes in the training room before practice and usually about 30 minutes afterwards as well.

“As far as conditioning, when I first started practicing was before classes started in January, so I would put in 30-40 minutes on the elliptical machine to get my conditioning back up,” said McCormick. “Once school started again, I would come over after dinner and after all my homework was finished to work out for another 20 minutes or so.

“But I found out after awhile that I didn’t like sitting out of things in practice, so later in the season, I just played and dealt with it.”

McCormick’s first action came Jan. 3 in a home match-up against Case Western Reserve (Ohio) University. She played nine minutes in a 67-38 BC loss, missing her only field goal attempt and also totaling one rebound and four turnovers. Overall, her first seven games showed the inconsistencies one might expect from a player who had not played in more than a year and a half, as she was averaging 0.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, which raised doubts in McCormick’s mind as her to whether she would be able to play the game at the college level.

“I had thought about coming back to play a couple times before Coach Upton asked me but I was afraid to try and have it not work out and go through the whole disappointment aspect again,” said McCormick. “And then the first couple games were so nerve-wracking. Even though I played basketball for so long, it felt so new and different that it raised doubts in my mind as to whether I could play here.”

Although she wasn’t having a huge impact right away for the team, Upton thought it would take a little time for McCormick to hit her stride and also believed that her positive attitude meant results would come sooner rather than later.

“We knew it would take her a little time to get back to game speed,” said Upton. “Despite the mistakes on the court, Kaitlyn has always been very coachable. She wants to know what she’s doing wrong and how to fix it, so she listened very hard over those first couple weeks and you could see daily the improvements and adjustments she was making.”

Any doubts began to subside Jan. 24, when in a loss at Saint Vincent (Pa.) College, McCormick recorded eight points, four rebounds and four steals. Two games later, the 5-6 guard drilled three three-pointers on her way to 11 points for her first double-figure scoring night and in a Feb. 7 triumph over PAC rival Waynesburg (Pa.) College, she tallied a career-high 17 points in a victory that went a long way towards ensuring the fourth seed and a quarterfinal home game for the Bison in the PAC Tournament.

After the rocky start, McCormick would average 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent (28-53) from the floor and 45.5 percent (10-22) from the arc in the final 11 games. In addition, she earned a spot in the starting line-up for the last eight contests and helped the Bison reach the PAC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2004.

“After struggling through the first couple games, it was a relief to know I could still do it and I started getting my self-confidence back,” said McCormick of her improved play. “Everything just started clicking around me, like someone snapped their fingers and everything went from there. The most important thing was that we started winning some games, which was what everyone needed at that point.”

As for next year, McCormick says the ankle is doing fine and outside of some rehab in the summer, she anticipates being ready to go when practice begins in October.

“There shouldn’t be any more surgeries at this point, unless something gets really bad,” said McCormick. “I will go back to therapy for about six weeks in the summer to rebuild strength but I should be ready to go for next season.”

McCormick, who is the second Bethany women’s player to be a finalist for the V Foundation Comeback award in the last three years (Nicole Vlajkovich - 2005), feels privileged to be held in the same esteem as the other inspirational stories.

“I am very happy that I was even considered and truly honored to be recognized along with the other finalists,” said McCormick. “It’s very rewarding to be up for an award such as this because it shows that hard work and dedication will really pay off in the end.”

A psychology major, Kaitlyn is the daughter of Connie Bitzer and Tim McCormick of Wheeling, W.Va.

The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary NC State basketball coach and ESPN commentator. Since 1993 The Foundation has raised more than $60 million used to fund cancer research grants nationwide. The Foundation awards grants through a competitive awards process strictly supervised by a Scientific Review Committee of top doctor/scientists nationwide. The Foundation operates with a small staff, a nationwide volunteer network and an all-volunteer Board of Directors and Scientific Review Committee. The V Foundation takes great pride in its fiscal responsibility and is proud to announce that it gives 100 percent of all new direct cash donations to cancer research and related programs. Recognized for its prudent fiscal management, The V Foundation has earned a top four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator, for four consecutive ratings. Receiving a top rating from Charity Navigator indicates that The V Foundation has outperformed most of its peers in its efforts to manage and grow its finances. Passion, friendship and commitment. These themes run deep in The V Foundation. We ask you to join us. Call 1-800-4JimmyV or log on to www.jimmyv.org to join the cause.