ERIE, Pa. (D9/EYT) – A few years ago, it is likely people thought softball first when thinking of Cranberry High graduate Andrea Watson.
Now, people are more inclined to think warrior when thinking about the Gannon University junior.
(Photos courtesy of Gannon University Athletics)
Despite various hardships to begin her college experience, Watson continues to show drive and perseverance to get back on the field this spring for her first full college season. Spring 2020 put a damper into the beginning of her career as COVID-19 forced her freshman season to be canceled after just 17 games.
Last spring did not fare better as an injury to a disc in her back suffered in February forced her out until April. Before returning to action fully, a collision in the outfield during practice did not just force her out for the rest of the season, but it caused a severe brain injury that forced her to miss the rest of the 2021 spring semester at Gannon.
That’s not all, as she would endure vestibular and exertion therapy from April until August, to help her recover and eventually get back on the softball field. Thankfully, therapy has made the difference and 2022 will mean her first college action since she scored two runs for the Golden Knights in a victory over Clarion back on March 12, 2020.
“Despite all the hardship I have faced in the last two years, I feel like academically and athletically, everything is finally falling into place,” Watson said.
While Watson was dynamo pitcher for the Berries during her high school career, those days are unfortunately behind her as she will play the outfield primarily for the rest of her softball career. However, the Cranberry community will never forget the contributions she made when in the circle.
She helped the Berries win back-to-back District 9 titles in 2018 and 2019, while being the ace of the pitching staff that helped the Berries reach the PIAA semifinals as a senior. She said this about what that final run in high school means to her personally.
“No one expected us to make it as far as we did, which made us all push even harder to keep advancing. I never experienced a sense of pride like that before. I was so proud to have the women around me on the field that I had and to wear Cranberry across the front of my jersey.”
Since the age of 12, softball has consumed Watson’s life as she started playing softball on the travel circuit for the first time, spending six seasons with Pittsburgh Power Softball and one season with Pittsburgh Riot Softball. It was an opportunity to help raise her game in the sport and is something she took full advantage of.
“Growing up in Venango County made me work a little harder to be noticed by more competitive colleges,” said Watson. “I owe a great deal of what I have become to Pittsburgh Power Softball and playing travel softball in Allegheny County and all over the country.”
Playing those extra games summer after summer helped her to get noticed by various colleges, but Gannon University was the winner of her services as they offered everything she was looking for: an exercise science degree that led into physical therapy school, a winning program at the Division II level, and the opportunity to experience more of a diverse student body and city made Gannon the ultimate destination for her college years. She also hit it off with the coaching staff for the Golden Knights from the start.
“When I began looking at colleges back in 2018, Gannon’s softball program was a standout with their consistent winning (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) record,” Watson said. “When I came to tour and meet Coach Michelle Wiley and Coach Joe Dolak, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
While Wiley and Dolak have been positive figures in her life over her five semesters at Gannon, she credits her teammates and Gannon softball family for being the new support system she needed since leaving Venango County. However, the positive village of people started at home in Venus as she credits her parents Don and Valerie Watson, along with her grandparents, David and Rosanne Amsler, for being the four people who have made her dream of playing college softball possible.
“They made sure I made it to practice, knew the rules of the game, and respected my opponents,” said the former Berrie standout. “They never missed a game and supported the team as a whole.”
To date, softball has brought her countless memories, but the ones she lists as her favorite include all the tournaments she was able to play in during travel softball, the run to the state semifinals as a senior at Cranberry, and – perhaps her favorite of them all – warming up for her first ever college softball game in Dahlonega, Ga., in spring 2020.
“It was my softball life coming full circle,” she said. “It was the realization of being a Division II college athlete. My hard work paid off.”
When not playing softball, studying takes up much of Watson’s time as she is preparing to enter physical therapy school in about 18 months as a part of Gannon’s 4-plus-3 Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. Within her studies, she hopes to specialize in neurotherapy after the recent brain injury she experienced just last spring.
From the spring of 2020 until now, it has not been easy for Watson as the COVID-19 pandemic, injuries, and the normal everyday pressure of being a college student have made it a tough few years. However, a reunion is in order as Feb. 27 will mark the return to the game she’s loved since she was a little girl.
“This season I want to continue pushing myself to be the best collegiate athlete by gaining back my strength and being the first one on and off the field,” Watson said. “I am so excited to get back onto the field and be the best athlete I can be for the 2022 season, regardless of what my position on the field is.”