West Virginia senior Courtney Schrand had no idea what rowing was when she started high school.
And if it wasn’t for one of her close friends, there’s no way she would be where she is today.
“I didn’t know it involved legs,” said Schrand. “I didn’t even know rowers faced backward.”
The story of how Schrand, now in her final season as an elementary education major, became a varsity student-athlete at West Virginia is as improbable as they come.
Schrand knew she wanted to pick up a new sport when she started high school. She had been a swimmer and played softball, but wanted something different. She was thinking about a couple different sports until her friend Morgan Leach, also a member of the WVU rowing team, told her that her sister really liked rowing.
“I had never seen it,” she said. “But I knew (Morgan’s) sister loved it, so I decided to give it a shot.”
Her dad, Jim Schrand, admitted he was even a little shocked and skeptical at his daughter’s decision to pick up a sport about which she knew she knew nothing.
“There are a lot of grueling and physical aspects of it,” he said. “She sets goals and doesn't let much get in the way of achieving them. She’s got a huge amount of persistence, and I think that's been big for her.”
The persistence paid off. She convinced her parents to attend an information session about rowing for First Colonial High in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Weeks later, she was in a boat, facing backward, getting the workout of her life.
“The more we learned about the sport and the kids that were a part of the program, we just loved it,” said her father.
The next chapter in Schrand’s story came her junior year of high school when her coach sat her and the older members of the team down to discuss college.
“My coach had talked to us about the availability of scholarships for rowing and the growing number,” she said. “So, that sparked my interest. I loved it so much, so I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing.”
Courtney and her father pinpointed schools with strong elementary education programs and had Division I rowing programs. However, she never considered West Virginia as an option.
“I was looking at a few other places and was pretty sure of where I was going to go,” she said. “My dad encouraged me to go on a visit here last minute.”
It was February, just four months from high school graduation, when Courtney took a visit by herself to Morgantown.
“I didn't think it was going to be a waste of time, but I just didn't think I was going to love it,” she said.
But the last-minute visit, one with little expectations, turned out to be a decision that would change her life.
“When I got to campus, I fell in love with it. I went home knowing that this is where I wanted to be.”
Even the man that urged his daughter to take the visit, her father, wasn’t expecting it to sway her decision.
“When she came back from that trip, it was unbelievable. I was not expecting anywhere near the level of enthusiasm of what she had.”
Schrand said West Virginia head coach Jimmy King and the rest of the rowers really helped her feel a part of the team before she was even officially part of it. But it was the master’s program in elementary education that sealed the deal.
Since grade school, Schrand had wanted to be an elementary school teacher, and the ability to get a strong foundation in elementary education was crucial to her choice. At West Virginia, there’s a five-year program, where students can earn their master’s degree.
“In our free time (when we were in elementary school), we were allowed to read to special education students,” said Schrand. “I got to do that, and fell in love. I’ve wanted to do it ever since then.”
Schrand had to adjust to a busy schedule on campus, one that included classes, student-teaching and the rigors of being a varsity student-athlete. But not once did she ever regret her decision.
“I’ve loved it the entire time. It has exceeded my expectations. Just everything I’ve learned from rowing and the relationships I’ve formed with my teammates, it’s been an awesome experience the whole way.”
She’s been successful, too. She earned a spot on the Big East Conference First Team as a freshman and sophomore. She was also the team MVP that second year. For the past two seasons, she’s served as the team captain.
“Success isn’t one person in rowing. When I was a freshman, I learned from the seniors and kind of just picked up on things that they were teaching me. I tried to become the leader that they were to me.”
In the classroom, she’s been honored as a Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Scholar Athlete, named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team and Academic All-Big 12 First Team.
For Schrand, rowing and her education has complemented each other well.
“I think that being a teacher involves a lot of teamwork because you’re working with all the other teachers, especially with special education, because there are so many individuals that work with any given student. I’ve been able to develop good leadership skills with the team.”
She has also been able to experience the last four years with Leach, whom she encouraged to look at West Virginia.
“She came back and said that they needed coxswains here,” Leach said. “I was set on going to Old Dominion, but after I came here for a visit, I loved it.”
“It’s great to have her here. We’ve both been involved in competing. She encourages me, and I encourage her to be better.”
“It’s really neat because we’ve known each other since middle school. We’ve been friends a really long time,” said Schrand. “We’re with each other all the time. Having that person who has known me for so much longer with me here, it’s really cool.”
So the most improbable story about a girl becoming a rower at West Virginia came true. And it worked out perfectly.