GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Lauren McCutcheon’s journey to becoming the Gatorade South Carolina Volleyball Player of the Year and a future Gamecock has been one of adversity. Growing up deaf, McCutcheon was bullied at school, adding to a growing list of obstacles.

“I definitely learned that it’s okay to be different. Not everyone is perfect. Not everyone is normal,” McCutcheon said. “That showed me that I’m actually tough. I’m a tough person.”

McCutcheon’s toughness soon translated to the volleyball court. She discovered the sport in middle school, and joined the program at J.L. Mann as an eighth grader.

“It was challenging because all the players were older than me, but I worked my butt off to play the position I wanted to and start,” she said.

It didn’t take long for her to break into the starting lineup. But even with a cochlear implant in her right ear, an electronic device that stimulates the hearing nerve by the same name, there were still difficulties on the court.

“I started realizing that you really have to communicate,” McCutcheon said. “If [my teammates] know that I can’t hear them they’d have to wave or touch me or saying something to me to face and make sure I’m looking at them.”

Her teammates welcomed the challenge, and McCutcheon quickly became a leader. She excelled as an outside hitter, recording 334 kills this season, 195 digs, 35 service aces and 27 blocks. Her efforts helped bring the Patriots to the state quarterfinals. All of this while also playing for her club team with Upward Sports, an organization that she awarded $1,000 to through Gatorade. She is the first volleyball player from J.L. Mann to receive Gatorade Player of the Year honors.

“[I’m} proud to be a Patriot and I thank my coaches at J.L. Mann for nominating me and all the awards and pushing me and helping me become a better player.”

Perhaps her most rewarding experience, though, has been playing as a member of the USA Deaf Volleyball Team.

“We would play on the court completely deaf and that’s a way different version than having my implant on…That, to me, shows that I’m not the only one.”

McCutcheon and her teammates took home a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Brazil in 2019. They’ll be competing in the Deaflympics next summer.

Her experience has inspired her to give back. McCutcheon volunteers at nursing homes on behalf of the Special Olympics, and she also serves as a mentor to kids with cochlear implants.

“I would tell them God has a plan for everything and there’s nothing you can do about it, so just make the most of it…I support you. Be confident in yourself and just have fun.”

McCutcheon also excels in the classroom. She maintained a 3.8 GPA, and will play at the University of South Carolina this fall on scholarship. It’s more than just a great opportunity for McCutcheon. She will be carrying on a family tradition as both of her parents played Softball for the Gamecocks and her dad played baseball and football at USC.

“I wanted to be there and like continue the tradition…I can’t wait to be on the court and wear a University of South Carolina jersey and have my family cheer me on.”