By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Morgan McGinnis couldn't believe she hit her serve so poorly during a Feb. 26, 2012, interclub tennis match against Madie Baillon.
"It was probably a serve that a third grader just learning the motion would hit," McGinnis said. "I was like, ‘Wow, what a serve Morgan.'"
What happened next was expected, as Baillon smashed a return winner past McGinnis.
What happened after that, nobody in the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana, Ill., ever could have expected.
As McGinnis went to the neighboring court to retrieve the ball, she felt herself getting "spaghetti legs." She chalked it up to fatigue. Then McGinnis reached for the ball with her left hand but couldn't pick it up.
She finally just scooted the ball back toward her court with her racket as she continued to try to pick up the ball.
"All of a sudden, my opponent was running over to me saying, ‘Morgan, Morgan, Morgan! Are you OK? Are you OK?'" McGinnis said. "All I was thinking was, ‘Why is she over here? We're playing a match.'"
The next thing McGinnis remembered was hearing screams from the crowd. Then she remembered collapsing into the arms of teammate Casey Bonham, who rushed over from a nearby court. Although McGinnis didn't realize it at the time, she was experiencing an Ischemic stroke.
Those who don't know about the incident wouldn't figure McGinnis endured a stroke just 17 months ago. She moves gracefully on the court and has the power back in her strokes.
McGinnis, an Edwardsville High School graduate, will be a freshman on the Quincy University women's tennis team this year. She competed in the women's open division of the city tennis tournament at Reservoir Park, placing third on Saturday.
Although McGinnis still considers her game to be a step away from where it was before the stroke, the fact she's playing at a high level so soon alone is remarkable.
‘We thought she was dying'
McGinnis' parents, Kevin and Sharla, were at that match in Urbana, and some of the screams Morgan heard from the crowd were theirs. Initially, Kevin said he thought his daughter was just fainting.
When he got to his daughter's side, he knew it was far more than that.
Morgan's face was drooping and she was paralyzed on her left side.
"We thought she was dying right in front of our eyes," Kevin said.
Morgan's normally stoic coach at Edwardsville even showed signs of concern.
"My wife said she looked into the eyes of her coach, Dave Lipe, and he's normally a cool cucumber," Kevin said. "She saw panic in his eyes."
In the moments after Morgan's collapse, Kevin said the No. 1 priority became keeping his daughter alert.
"I didn't want her to lose consciousness. I was worried she wasn't going to come back," Kevin said.
Kevin remembers Morgan talking to him some as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. She became aware of her symptoms and questioned her dad about what was happening.
"She was worried about would she ever be normal again," Kevin said.
When the ambulance arrived to take Morgan to Carle Foundation Hospital in Champaign, Kevin was allowed to ride up front with the driver. Kevin recalled the driver telling him that they would be stationary for a while as the medical personnel put an IV in Morgan.
Then plans changed, giving Kevin another scare.
"The guy in the back goes, ‘Hey Bill, we're going to code this. Let's go,'" Kevin said. "All of a sudden, we went full sirens and they did the IV in transit."
About an hour or two after his daughter arrived at the emergency room at Carle, Kevin said he felt confident that his daughter's life was no longer in jeopardy.
She had regained some limited mobility on her left side by that evening.
Soon, concerns shifted to less pressing matters.
"I just remember telling my dad, ‘Will I be able to play tennis next season?'" Morgan said.
After two nights in Carle, Morgan was transferred to a hospital in St. Louis, where she spent four nights before going home.
She missed six weeks of school while recovering.
Ultimately, doctors discovered Morgan suffered the stroke because of a blood clot that restricted blood flow to her brain.
Road to recovery
Within two weeks of the stroke, Morgan was walking with assistance. About a month after the stroke, she returned to the tennis court.
Her mobility was limited, but she was glad to have a racket back in her hands.
By June 2012, Morgan was playing competitively in the doubles portions of the Edwardsville Open.
"It was rough, but I really wanted to do it," Morgan said.
The stroke impacted Morgan's goals for her senior season at Edwardsville. After winning sectional titles in singles as a sophomore and junior, she had hopes to three-peat. But with her mobility still a little limited last fall, she was used more in doubles action. Morgan still played some singles -- she won the No. 3 singles flight at the Southwestern Conference tournament -- but at sectionals, she teamed with Megan LaRose to win a doubles championship.
"Even though it wasn't a three-peat in singles, it was a three-peat for me," Morgan said. "That was really important to me."
Morgan and LaRose ended up going 3-2 at the state tournament.
If there's a silver lining to the stroke, it's that it served to deepen Morgan's love for tennis. She's teaching tennis as her job this summer as she prepares for her freshman season with the Lady Hawks. Morgan considered attending the University of Illinois and playing club tennis before opting for a more competitive setting by coming to QU.
"All of that happening just kind of opened my mind that some crazy things may happen in life, but you just have to accept it and keep moving on," Morgan said. "You can't really give up on things. That stroke kind of reopened my passion for tennis.
"I remember going out of junior year, I wasn't sure if I was going to play tennis in college, but that kind of just gave me an extra push."