An athlete’s career can end so suddenly with an injury, let alone back-to-back major injuries. Some never see the court again, and some return but never reach the same level of play as before.
But a select few find their way back to develop into the player they had always dreamed of becoming.
Two years and two surgeries seem like a lifetime ago for Haley Gorecki. The redshirt sophomore had a rocky start to her Duke career. In her freshman season, the 6-foot guard played 14 games before she was sidelined with an injury in her right hip. Gorecki had partially fractured her femur and went in for her first surgery.
When things started to look up and Gorecki was back on the practice floor, an injury from the past came back to haunt her. Gorecki had hurt her shoulder during high school, and a screen in practice during her sophomore year at Duke reaggravated the injury and sent her back for yet another surgery. This time, Gorecki took the redshirt and sat out for the season. And thus began the road to recovery.
With injuries happening so early in her career, Gorecki went into recovery with plenty of eligibility remaining to play for her Blue Devils, making her desire to come back stronger than ever.
“Recovery was a bit little crazy,” Gorecki said. “My teammates and coaches kept pushing me to keep going. It also helped to have a goal in mind. To know that something bad happened, but now something good was going to happen.”
But recovery involves much more than just physically returning to a healthy state. Recovery has a lot to do with the mentality of how the player returns, and it took time for Gorecki's confidence to come back to her.
“Being confident with everything and being confident with my body and knowing that nothing was hurt,” Gorecki said was a major part of her mental recovery. “But also you see everything from a different perspective, more of a coaching side of things."
Her confidence paid off. Prior to her first injury, now two years ago, Gorecki was only averaging 4.5 points per game with a career high of 11 points. Now, Gorecki is exceeding that total in virtually every game she plays.
Gorecki’s season start out slow, with only one point in seven minutes against Grand Canyon in the season opener. But as the season progressed, and Gorecki played more and more, the confidence she had in herself became apparent. Now in the starting lineup for 10 games in a row, Gorecki scored in double figures in seven straight games until facing Wake Forest Jan. 11, when she was contained to only five.
“It’s easy when you’re practicing against some of the best guards and being able to compete against Lexie [Brown] and Becca [Greenwell],” Gorecki said. “It’s been a long time, but they make it easy for me.”
It would not have come as a surprise for Gorecki to take a backseat again when Greenwell returned from an absence of about a month due to a knee injury, but instead, she has continually set herself new records to break.
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After a then-career-high of 25 points Jan. 4 against Louisville, Gorecki quickly bested that with 28 points last Thursday at Virginia Tech. Her seven 3-pointers were the most by a Hokie opponent in Cassell Coliseum history, but once again, that was not enough. Despite Duke's loss at North Carolina Sunday afternoon, Gorecki led the team with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists, her fourth time scoring at least 20 points this season alone.
Gorecki is now the second-leading scorer on the team in ACC play with 16.6 points per game through conference play, inching closer to preseason All-American Lexie Brown, and is knocking down 3-pointers at a 44.4 percent clip for the season.
Gorecki still has two years of eligibility after this season, but the dynamic of the team will shift dramatically in her last two seasons as a Blue Devil. With three major starters graduating this year—Greenwell, Brown and Erin Mathias—Gorecki will be left to lead a young team, alongside sophomore Leaonna Odom and injured point guard Kyra Lambert.
“Haley is not a young player,” said head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “She might be a sophomore, but she had junior thinking, playing, and mentality.”
With just nine games left in the regular season, Gorecki and the Blue Devils will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night to face ACC foe Boston College, with Gorecki looking to score more than 20 points for the third straight game.