The Miracle Season

GWU Alumna Reflects on Lessons of Friendship, Loss, and Perseverance as Depicted in New Movie

A motion picture based on the inspiring true story of the West High School (Iowa City, Iowa) girls’ volleyball team is hitting close to home for one Gardner-Webb University alumna.

In 2010, Anna Pashkova (’16) and her West High School volleyball teammates captured the 4A State Championship. A record-setting libero for the GWU Runnin’ Bulldogs, Pashkova remembers the glory of that 2010 high school season. She also recalls the gut-wrenching news that shocked the entire Iowa City community on August 11, 2011—just weeks before the start of her senior year.

The team’s star—setter Caroline “Line” Found—was tragically killed in a moped accident. The movie “The Miracle Season” tells the story of how the remaining players banded together under the guidance of their tough-love Coach Kathy Bresnahan—played by Oscar-winner Helen Hunt—in a successful quest to win a consecutive state title in Found’s memory.

“Producers started approaching our coach and the Found family soon after the 2011 season and at first, they turned them down,” Pashkova shared. “Although there were quite a few differences between the movie depiction and what really happened, overall, I think the producers did a good job of capturing the main story behind the movie. We hope it is inspiring to many people.”

Actor William Hurt plays Found’s father, Ernie, who had to process not only the death of his youngest daughter, but also the loss of his wife, Ellyn, to cancer just 10 days later. The movie depicts a turning point in the season where the team begins to really click, and they realize they may have a shot at state after all. Game by game, the West High team marches ahead and manages to face off against their rival, City High School, at the 2011 State Championship. In a point-by-point showdown, West High emerges victorious after a successful shot down the line to secure the win in the fifth set.

“The feeling was almost indescribable. It was such a huge mix of bittersweet feelings,” offered Pashkova. “There was excitement with such a big comeback, and relief that we had done it and it was finally over. It was emotional because of everything that had built up from losing ‘Line’ and the fact that she wasn’t there with us.”

After such an incredible and emotionally-raw season, Pashkova wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue playing volleyball in college. “I wasn’t planning on playing,” she reflected, “but what captivated me about GWU was the close-knit community that felt like home and resembled the community of support we had created in Iowa.”

She earned a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from GWU in 2016. Now a graduate student at Ohio State University, Pashkova is studying medical dietetics and hopes to become a registered dietician. She will complete the OSU program in 2019.

Overall, the lessons she has learned through her high school and college experiences have prepared her for whatever may come in the future. “I’ve realized that things aren’t always easy, and unexpected life events are bound to happen,” she explained. “We have a choice in how we respond to and deal with it. Line was a great example of how to live life to the fullest with passion—and to continually live in the present.”