While on an early morning visit to the University of Central Oklahoma rowing team’s practice, senior Sawyer Schreiner got the feeling this was something that was meant for her.
“I got to meet the team, and they’re all wonderful,” Schreiner said. “They all talked to me and were excited for me to come on the team next year.”
Schreiner said she and her family were exploring scholarship opportunities when they found the university’s rowing team was offering. She applied and had conversations with the coaching staff before visiting the school.
Assistant rowing coach Jimmy Francis said he honestly talks to recruits about how several athletes with no rowing experience have quit and about the university’s required performance test. Both often scare recruits away.
But Schreiner was different, especially for an out-of-sport athlete, which is someone with no rowing experience.
“Sawyer was one of those out-of-sport athletes that was like, ‘No. I’m interested. I want to keep pursuing this because I think I could be good,’” Francis said. “As a coach, that’s exciting for us to see, you know, this could be an athlete that has the right mindset to win a national championship one day.”
Francis said the performance test, usually a two and a half mile run, is used to determine who really wants to be a part of the program because, before the implementation of the test, many athletes would join and quit shortly after realizing the physical and mental commitment required for rowing.
The University of Central Oklahoma’s rowing team has won three of the last four NCAA Division II national championships in 2018, 2019 and 2021.
Schreiner impressed Francis not only with her time during the test, but with her determination.
“Every out-of-sport athlete that we look at is, ‘Do they have that mental fortitude to do this?’” Francis said. “Sawyer was one of those athletes that stood out amongst the large handful of athletes that applied to try to make it onto our team.”
Although Schreiner doesn’t have any rowing experience, Francis said it is common for the program to bring in out-of-sport athletes and teach them to row in their first year.
Francis said he is confident Schreiner will be able to learn how to row properly because of her experience in high school competitions.
“Out-of-sport athletes are something that we at the University of Central Oklahoma put a lot of value into,” Francis said. “In my opinion, the out-of-sport athlete is a higher quality athlete just because they’re coming straight out of high school. They’ve done sports before. They’ve been in the competition setting where we don’t necessarily have to teach them how to be an athlete.”
Schreiner said her physical attributes from playing high school sports will help her in her transition to rowing.
“I think I’ll have good stamina for rowing. It's just I probably will have terrible form, but they’ll teach me all of that,” she said. “I think I have the athleticism.”
Schreiner played basketball, volleyball and softball during her time in high school. She also received All-Frontier League Second Team honors after her senior basketball season.
Cardinals girls basketball head coach Brandon Parker said Schreiner will not only bring her athletic ability to rowing, but also her passion of being a team player.
“Sawyer, to me, is the best teammate that’s maybe ever come out of Eudora,” Parker said. “I think it’s an incredible find for UCO because you’re going to get a young lady that works really hard and will be a great teammate and be very supportive of others.”
Being a part of a team was important to Schreiner in her college search, she said, which is a big reason she was interested in joining the rowing team.
As she prepares to move to an out-of-state school, Schreiner said being a member of the rowing team will be good for her so she will have a support system away from her family.
“It’s good to get yourself into a group of people and just become part of a family. I’ll probably need a family at UCO,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner said she is excited to get the whole college experience as well.
“I can’t wait to meet new people and move out of state and have a good time,” she said.
Schreiner plans to study funeral service with the hopes of becoming a funeral director.
Schreiner said she got interested in funeral services after interning at the Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence.
“My mentor was Lisa Manley, and I just loved her passion for helping people, and that made me want to be like her and help her,” Schreiner said. “Just helping people when they’re really in a terrible time in their lives just makes me feel good.”
Parker said a career choice that involves helping people is right on brand for Schreiner.
“Sawyer has a unique ability to make anywhere she goes better just because she is such a good person,” he said. “She has just kind of a ray of light that a lot of people don’t have. That’s a very unique quality and that’s why she’s going to be successful in whatever she does.”
Reach reporter Jack Denebeim at email@example.com.
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