Junior opposite hitter Taylor Rowland blocks a Louisville spike on Friday, November 5, 2021 in Reynolds Coliseum. The Louisville Cardinals beat the Wolfpack 3-0.

From time to time, sports fans are treated to stories of student-athletes who embody the phrase “student first, athlete second.” A shining example of this is redshirt junior outside hitter Taylor Rowland of the NC State volleyball team.

Student-athletes at any level face the daunting task of balancing school with sports. For college athletes, this is especially difficult, for they must manage their time in order to perform at a high level of athletic competition and flourish in the classroom with an advanced course load.

In the case of Rowland, not only does she balance time with school and sports, but she does triple duty as a student-teacher. When she isn’t killing it on the volleyball court and working hard in the classroom, Rowland spends much of her time teaching the third grade at A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh.

As one might imagine, balancing Division I athletics with a college course load and student-teaching is very demanding, but Rowland is able to level all three.

“It’s been hard balancing it all sometimes, but the coaches and the girls have all been super supportive and understanding,” Rowland said. “It’s been a grind. Every day is something different. All I can do is try my best to make the most of it.”

Majoring in elementary education, Rowland is pursuing a career she has known she wanted nearly her whole life. From a young age, Rowland has been around teaching as her mother and two of her grandparents were teachers and said she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

“I just want to do all I can to give kids what they need in life at a young age and provide them with opportunities to express who they are and to find who they are through education,” Rowland said. “It’s something that I’ve really loved being a part of. I’m just thankful for all the people in my life who have come through to help me get to where I am today.”

Her student-teaching experience has been just one part of what has been a wild college journey. Originally from Charlotte, Rowland began her college career at Auburn University before transferring to NC State after her freshman year where she has dealt with numerous injuries. After redshirting her sophomore year, Rowland experienced yet another change as the program hired a new head coach then had to play in the midst of a global pandemic in the 2020-21 season.

“It’s been crazy, but at the same time, I’m very thankful for it,” Rowland said. “I honestly wouldn’t change it because I’ve learned so much of how to deal with such ups and downs, things not going perfectly, how to adapt and really make the most of every moment.”

Every Monday, Rowland goes into her elementary school for her student-teaching and goes to class Tuesday through Thursday, causing her to be late to volleyball practice. Some weeks she goes to her elementary school every day Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Her coaches and teammates have taken notice of her highly demanding schedule as well as her incredible work ethic.

“Her schedule is probably the most demanding of any student-athlete I’ve ever met,” said NC State head volleyball coach Luka Slabe. “I never hear her complain. I never hear her looking for any excuses.”

Not only is Rowland supported by her coaches and teammates, but she is also supported by the students she teaches. Her students know she plays volleyball for NC State, and some of them come out to her games to cheer on their teacher.

“Some of my kids come to my games,” Rowland said. “They’re obsessed with how tall I am. They ask me all the time, ‘How tall are you?’ and are like ‘You’re so tall!’ That’s definitely a connection I have with them.”

Recently, Rowland led the Pack to a thrilling five-set victory over Notre Dame with a career-high 25 kills. In the stands supporting her was one of her students, a young girl who also plays volleyball.

“That was the first time she saw me play because she came to a game before and I was hurt,” Rowland said. “She came in today and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you were so great!’”

While they may seem like two completely different things, playing volleyball and teaching require a common set of skills, which is something Rowland has learned.

“With teaching and volleyball, a lot of uncertainty can happen,” Rowland said. “During the day with teaching, you need to make changes with student needs, you need to change your lesson plan. That can be the same thing with volleyball. If you lost the first set, you need to make a change to how you want to play. You have to make changes fast in order for the outcome to be what you want.”

Her coach also sees qualities in her that would make her a good teacher and able to manage life after college.

“She doesn’t get rattled,” Slabe said. “Even though she’s had a tough week or a rough day, she’s gonna always be happy, she’s gonna always laugh, she’s gonna be positive. That’s what you need. You want a teacher that’s emotionally level. As a teacher, you’ve got to be pretty levelheaded.”

Through her incredible work teaching, in the classroom, and on the volleyball court, Rowland truly embodies what being a student-athlete is all about. But she doesn’t just represent any kind of student-athlete; she represents the NC State student-athlete.

“Not many can do that,” Slabe said. “Most of them would quit, especially after eight hours of teaching and being in the classroom, then still having to go and play for me, which is tough and demanding. It’s a joy to be around someone like that. That’s the type of athlete we need in our program, that will go through sacrifices no matter what and will push through.”

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Senior Sports Writer

I'm Ben Ellis. I am in the NC State Class of 2023 majoring in history. I've been writing for Technician since November of 2019.