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One on One: MIfflin County’s courageous center Molly Wagoner

Editor’s Notes: Hometown Sports’ Editor and Chief Kenny Varner caught up with MIfflin County’s courageous basketball player Molly Wagoner. We talked to her about coming out her finally two games of the season after an injury that could have kept her out the entire season. We talked about her return. Her future and the feelings she got when she was back out on the court.

HS: What made you decide to comeback for those final two games?

MW: Especially after recovering from a serious injury?

There were probably 2 main reasons….I wanted to try to make it back (even if it was just for a few games) for my senior year and wanted to try to help my teammates win the D6 championship.

HS: How did it feel to be a part of the team’s first playoff win in its history?

MW: Great! Hard work does pay off and my teammates and coaches put a lot of effort into a very unique season. Every game was special because you never knew if COVID might cause it to be your last.

HS: You and your team played well in the championship game but fell late, looking back now a few weeks later, you have to be proud of the effort you and your team gave in that contest.

MW: I am proud, but it still hurts a little. A few calls that didn’t go our way in the last two minutes changed the momentum of that game and we came up short .

HS: Did you expect to play as well as you did? You were killing things in the rebound department and it seemed like in the title game you were seeing your shots well.

MW: Rebounding / shot blocking and playing strong defense have always been my strongest skills set. I knew if I could slow down drives to the basket and guard the paint, we’d have a chance. Any scoring I was able to do was great, but I am still not 100% physically yet and would have loved to have scored a few more.

HS: Finishing with those two games help you to feel like a satisfying way to bookend your high school career?

MW: It does! Having been deprived of my whole junior year and most of my senior season would have made 2 minutes on the court satisfying! I would never have dreamed my high school basketball career would have taken the path that it did. I will never take the ability to play the sport I love for granted.

HS: How did the time sitting on the bench with the injury teach you while you were helping with stats and cheering your team on?

MW: Coach Herto was gracious enough to allow me to be part of the team, even if I couldn’t play, so I want to make sure to thank him for that. I learned how much I missed playing! I also saw how shot percentages/rebounding/ and foul shooting really can change the game. Offense is important, but so is defense! A player has to play both sides of the ball to be a true team contributor.

HS: What happened to cause your injury? 

MW: I had 2 ACL tears a year apart from each other. I sustained my first ACL tear to my right knee in August of 2019 at Bucknell’s basketball camp. That one was caused by landing funny on a jump stop. My second ACL tear to my left knee happened about 1 year later at Spooky Nook In August 2020. I was playing in an AAU game when I was hit on the side of my knee on an inbounds play.

HS: When did it happen?

MW: First ACL tear in August 2019, second ACL tear in August 2020

HS: Are you heading to college to continue your academic and athletic career?  

MW: I am headed to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to play basketball. I will be playing for Coach Mike Drahos. I plan on majoring in pre-pharmacy. After completing my undergraduate degree, I can then transfer into the Pharmacy program at the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.

HS: When you came onto the court for the first time against State College, what emotions were you feeling?

MW: It felt like coming home! I was a little anxious about my performance since it was my first high school game in 2 years but I settled in after a few moments. My happiness of being back on the court made my nerves disappear after a few minutes.

HS: It seemed like when your name was called at the announcers table that you were starting, the whole gym went crazy. What was amazing was that the gym was hardly filled due to Covid-19. Did that send goosebumps through you?

MW: I always appreciate the support of my family and friends and teammates, but I’m usually so focused on the game that the gym noise tends to get blocked out. The first night back was different though, and I did try to take it all in. It was a nice thing to hear, but it was the support that I received from family, friends, teammates, and my coaches off the court that got me back to my game.

HS: How long were you rehabbing from your injury?

MW: I was 6 months and 2 days from my left ACL tear when I got back on the court. Most people can be cleared to return to play in 6-9 months, although retuning to preinjury performance levels can take at least a year. My rehab will definitely continue in the upcoming months.

HS: What advice would you give to other players that have to fight through adversity and injury?

MW: If you want it bad enough, you can get back to doing what you love. There were days that I was so disappointed that my high school career had played out the way it did, but I tried to stay positive. It will require hard work and determination, but you can come back. You might come back bigger and better! A big shout our goes to Matt and Ian of Drayer physical therapy sin Lewistown for getting me back to the court for my senior year.

HS: As a role model for young girls basketball players, what advice would you give them when they are first starting out?

MW: Practice, practice, and more practice! Also learning fundamental skills of the game and executing them correctly is essential. Ball handling, passing, dribbling, and are essential. Never forget to importance of mastering these skills as these serve as the foundation of your game. I have Dick and Aaron Gingerich to thank for helping me with this when I started out.

If you do love the game of basketball, expand your horizons beyond your high school game and join a travel team. Most of the recruiting and exposure I received happened while playing AAU basketball. Central PA Dynamite is a club located out of Altoona that I would recommend to anyone wanting to play college ball. Mike Reed runs this club and he is a great person to help you out with the recruiting process. My family and I are grateful for the support Mike and the Dynamite basketball program gave us in finding the right college fit for me that would let me play basketball while meeting my educational goals.

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