#FocusDisruption: How The Volleyball Team Rallied Around Katelyn Monaghan In The Midst Of Tragedy

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Published January 26, 2022
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The Montclarion
Katelyn Monaghan (bottom left in red) credits her teammates with supporting her while trying to cope with her father passing. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

#FocusDisruption is a collaboration of all the media outlets within Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media. Our goal is to report stories that highlight the effects or disruption of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We will be focusing on five main points that are experiencing the changes of a post-pandemic world: education, misinformation, the workplace, climate change and mental health.

Eight days before the Montclair State University home volleyball opener against Stockton University, Katelyn Monaghan sat in the hospital with her family, saying goodbye to the man she’s considered her best friend for 21 years: her father.

John Monaghan, who had just successfully beaten cancer a few years prior, was diagnosed with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in January 2021 along with her mother and brother. All three were extremely sick, but Katelyn’s mother and brother eventually came out on top of the virus. Her father lost his battle.

“Everything just went downhill really quickly, so I was still in a state of shock,” Monaghan said. “I was all over the place emotionally; I didn’t believe it was happening. I was trying to think it was a nightmare rather than real life.”

For anyone, the loss of a parent is undoubtedly devastating. But for Monaghan, her relationship with her father molded her into the woman she is today and was the backbone for her love of volleyball.

“His biggest thing he taught me was whatever you do, do it at 100%,” Monaghan said. “With whatever I do, I never give it half my effort. He always told me to do everything the best you can.”

Monaghan credits her late father for growing her love for the game. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

Monaghan credits her late father for growing her love for the game.
Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

Mourning the loss of her father, Monaghan, a junior at the time, missed three games in the early part of the spring 2021 season. The New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) pushed the volleyball season from fall 2020 to spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outpouring of support Monaghan received was overwhelming, she said. In the initial days and weeks of her father’s death, extended family members popped into their home to check up on Monaghan, her mother and her brother. Friends and family showed their support for the volleyball player on social media with tributes and heartwarming text messages, posts and more.

Monaghan maintained she didn’t want to take too big of a hiatus from the sport, as she believed her father would’ve wanted her to continue to play. A visit from her teammates and best friends, Carly Waterman and Delaney St. Pierre, confirmed her conviction.

While the visit was full of lots of hugs, tears and silence, Waterman and St. Pierre gave their fellow volleyball captain a special gift.

“They gave me a card with pictures of the girls on the team with an orange, green and white ribbon on their sneakers that was in honor of my Dad, who was very Irish,” Monaghan said. “They even gave me my own shoe with the ribbon that included [my father’s] initials on it.”

The shoes that Katelyn Monaghan wore to honor her father. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

The shoes that Katelyn Monaghan wore to honor her father.
Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

Like the rest of the team, Waterman didn’t want to see Monaghan cope with the loss of her father alone. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 cases being so high at the time, the team wasn’t able to make it to the funeral to show their support for the Monaghan family.

To make up for this, the team decided to keep the spirit of John Monaghan alive on the court. For every game that season, the entire team wore the ribbon on their sneakers. They even brought Monaghan’s game sneakers to the games she missed.

“She was super happy and in tears when we showed her the picture of the ribbons,” Waterman said. “She called her mom over immediately to see it. It was almost as if she was in shock because she wasn’t expecting it. We just wanted her to know that the whole team had her back, we couldn’t go to the funeral since we were in-season and [COVID-19] was on the rise, so it was super hard for her to not have as many people around her. We just tried everything we could to make her feel like she was there with us.”

The women's volleyball team wore the ribbons on their sneakers throughout the spring 2021 season. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

The women’s volleyball team wore the ribbons on their sneakers throughout the spring 2021 season.
Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

After only missing a few games, she made her return on March 11 against Rutgers-Camden, racking up 13 digs in a thrilling five-set victory. It was nine days after the funeral.

“When Carly showed me those pictures, that was the moment where I realized I wanted to come back and be with my team and play with them,” Monaghan said.

Waterman & Monaghan consider each other to be best friends on and off the court. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

Carly Waterman (right) and Katelyn Monaghan (left) consider each other to be best friends on and off the court.
Photo courtesy of Katelyn Monaghan

Monaghan played a big role in the Red Hawks’ stout defense that season, but it wasn’t enough to win an NJAC title as the Red Hawks lost to Stockton in three sets in the conference championship game on March 25.

While losing to Stockton stung, it provided her with more motivation heading into her senior season. This senior class has been through a number of challenges — heartbreaking playoff defeats, a global pandemic and losing loved ones. Monaghan wanted to not only finish out her career for her father but for her teammates and coaches who showed such enormous support for her during such a turbulent time in her life.

Prior to her senior year, Monaghan wasn’t considered to be one of the Red Hawks’ premier players. However, head coach Eddie Stawinski saw potential in her based on her steady improvement throughout the last few seasons. She was named a team captain this season along with fellow seniors Waterman, St. Pierre and Leah Higgins.

Monaghan was named a captain during her senior season. Photo courtesy of David Venezia

Monaghan was named a captain during her senior season.
Photo courtesy of David Venezia

This new leadership role also came with a position switch — Stawinski gave her the libero role on the team, which is often given to the team’s best defensive player. It was a role she’d dreamed about since she was an underclassman, and after years of fluctuating playing time, the fall 2021 season was finally her chance to have a breakout season.

Stawinski praised the senior captain’s leadership and attitude during such a difficult time in her life.

“I think one thing that [sports] gets wrong is that athletes have to work through something like this, but it’s not like that,” Stawinski said. “I think it says a lot about her that she continued to play volleyball even when facing this. There were ups and downs. But I think she understood that it is okay to have bad days, to feel sad or that today I might be reminded of him a little bit more.”

During her senior season, Stawinski noticed a change in Monaghan on the court.

“I noticed that she was more calm on the court and she was happy on the court and you could see it in her play,” Stawinski said. “She wasn’t looking at the errors, the mistakes, any of that. She was just playing to have fun. And it was something that when I look back at everything that she’s gone through this past year, it’s truly remarkable.

Her renewed focus on the court led to Monaghan’s best season by far this fall. She totaled 463 digs, averaging 4.5 per game as her dominating performance on the defensive end led her to be named the NJAC Co-Defensive Player Of The Year and a First-Team All-NJAC selection. Both awards were firsts for the senior libero/defensive specialist.

Monaghan was named NJAC Co-Defensive Player Of The Year in the fall 2021 season.

Monaghan was named NJAC Co-Defensive Player Of The Year in the fall 2021 season.
Photo courtesy of David Venezia

“I was so surprised I won the award, considering that this was the first full season without my father and he played such a big role in my volleyball career,” Monaghan said. “Still, I know he was really with me this season [in spirit]. I could’ve only imagined his reaction if he was here and I told him.”

As a tribute to her father, Monaghan wore armbands during her games this season with the words “Dad” on one arm and then his initials on the other.

While her dad wasn’t the loudest fan at Monaghan’s volleyball games growing up, he was always the most supportive. Showing up to every game he could, motivating his daughter through adverse situations, you name it. Not seeing him there and playing without him in the crowd was a significant adjustment.

“It was definitely upsetting not having him there at first since the only games my dad really missed was when he had some health issues going on,” Monaghan said. “I remember the first home game thinking, ‘It’s just my mom now.’ But the whole season my aunts and cousins came along with my grandmother. And on senior night, I had a lot of family from my mom’s side, on my dad’s side. So I had a lot of support.”

Unfortunately, Monaghan’s dream season didn’t have the happy ending that one would hope. In a crushing defeat, the Red Hawks lost in five sets to Rowan University in the NJAC Championship Game on late-game heroics by the Profs. Given the injuries to several newcomers, including a season-ending injury to Waterman late in the regular season, many people didn’t even expect the Red Hawks to make it this far.

However, Monaghan is still proud of the way she played for herself and her father and the way the team battled amidst adversity.

“While I did want to finish this season out for my dad, those girls on the team are my best friends and I wanted to win that championship for them,” Monaghan said. “It was sad when we lost to Rowan, but I think we all knew how much we accomplished this year [and] with all the injuries we had, we still never took our eyes off what we wanted to accomplish. I’m proud of how far we came.”

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