A University of Wyoming goalkeeping stalwart and four-time College Matildas Goalkeeper of the Year, Georgia Rowntree has recently accepted an offer to continue her studies in the form of a Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Columbia University in New York. We caught up with the Cowgirls legend to get some insight into her pathway to this point, and also her future plans.
Long before the college recruiting process even began for Georgia Rowntree, the goalkeeper was determined to move into physiotherapy or a similar field following her playing days. With a chosen pathway already in mind before leaving for the United States, Rowntree was able to go through the process with a fine-tooth comb before even making a decision regarding whether to go to college or stay in Australia. As Wyoming was the only college program seriously pursuing the goalkeeper, the main point for Rowntree was finding a major that fit her plans for the future.
“I had always planned on going to uni in Australia, and I’d gotten into the Bachelor’s of Physiotherapy program at Sydney Uni, so I knew that that was the area I wanted to go into,” Rowntree explains. “So when I chose my major at Wyoming, I basically looked into what’s the most similar thing I can do, what’s an exercise science major that I can do at Wyoming, and that was kinesiology and health. I looked into what was the best undergraduate degree for me to do that would allow me entry into a physiotherapy program or something like that if I chose to come back home.”
With a plan in mind, Rowntree took advantage of the opportunity to discuss her future pathways with academic staff, both at Wyoming and at the University of Sydney, to ensure that she was headed in the right direction with her future plans. There can often be a risk when Australian students travel to the US to study medically-related fields with regards to satisfying requirements of post-graduate programs in Australia, but Rowntree ensured she had all bases covered regardless of which side of the Pacific her future lay.
“When i was speaking to [Wyoming coach] Pete Cuadrado about being recruited, I definitely asked those questions about [post-graduate study in Australia], and I was able to talk to one of the academic advisors at Wyoming about the best degree to go into, just so I wasn’t left in a degree that sort of meant nothing – not that degrees mean nothing anyway – but just one that would put me on the right path.”
“And I actually made sure that I spoke to someone at Sydney University about that as well, and if I came home if I would be able to get into the same program in Sydney, a Master’s with that degree.”
However, nothing is set in stone, as Rowntree explains with regards to her discussions with Sydney Uni.
“I took a bit of a chance, because I remember Sydney Uni saying, you know, right now you’ll probably be fine with that degree and those subjects that they offer in that degree, but you know, our prerequisites change all the time so you’ll have to double-check. But I was still pretty confident, because you know, the human body’s the human body, how wrong can you go?”
In any event, regardless of her plans, Rowntree’s future was destined to involve post-graduate study due to the structure of the degree that she studied at Wyoming.
“I knew that with my Bachelor’s in Kinesiology, I’d need to follow that up with some kind of graduate school, be that in Australia or the States, so I’d always kind of planned on that,” Rowntree explained.
“The idea of doing grad school in the States was always sort of in the back of my mind, because my major in Wyoming is considered a pre-professional program, so everyone is groomed for applying to different professional programs like physical therapy or occupational therapy.”
“So everyone talks about it there, like ‘this subject is really good for PT (physical therapy) school’ or ‘this subject is really good for OT (occupational therapy) school’, and I was just making sure that I got my prerequisites for Australia done.”
“But when I really started thinking about applying to PT school in the US was after I’d done some observation with physical therapists in the United States, just out of interest, seeing how their jobs differed from physios in Australia.”
“it was being in those environments that really motivated me to apply to PT school in the States.”
Rowntree applied to schools all over the US, from schools in the Pacific Northwest to Louisiana State University, and, of course, Columbia University in New York. But to say that Rowntree was less than optimistic about the Columbia application would be an understatement.
“I applied to seven different schools. Part of it was just – what is a place in the United States that I would like to live? I didn’t really have much idea of where I wanted to go at all, and I mean being from Sydney, the idea of living in New York City isn’t that foreign to me. I applied to places with good reputations, and also nice places to live. I just figured that if I didn’t get into any of those, I could just come home and live in Sydney, so I applied to the seven best schools in the country that I thought would suit me best.”
“Columbia was one that I just sort of threw in there. Of course, everyone knows Columbia, it has that huge international reputation. I never in a million years thought that I would hear back from them, so that was just a shot in the dark. There were schools like the University of Utah in Salt Lake City – which was a team we had played against, and I really liked their facilities when we played there – I thought that would be a really nice school to go to, and more like the level that I thought I’d be on. The fact that Columbia got in touch with me and invited me for an interview, and then on top of that accepted me, that was just a dream come true. That was just an application that I threw in there because it would be fun and thought ‘why not have a shot?’, and it’s turned out well, so that’s basically it!”
With a place in one of the world’s finest universities secured, Rowntree is now set, having moved from a major world city in Sydney to Laramie four years ago, to move from Laramie to the world’s major city in New York. There are many changes coming for the senior, but Rowntree is ready to face them all head-on.
“It’s a huge environment change, but that’s why I’m super-excited. I’ve been living in a small country town, and it’s been a huge experience and taught me a lot, coming from the suburbs of Sydney where there’s 4 million people. I guess I think it’s going to be really awesome to be in a new place. My dad said it’s the centre of the world, so you know, anything can happen there, and I’m just really keen to get to that new place.”
“It’s going to be really tough. PT school you go to class at 8am, then you have an hour for lunch, and you get done at 5pm every day. You spend all your time in your first year in an anatomy lab dissecting a dead body, then going home and studying what you’ve done in lab that day, so it’s going to be crazy-intense, but it’s going to be super-rewarding. I’m sure being at an institution like Columbia, I’m going to be well-taken care of.”
“I’ve just got to get used to living in a small apartment I guess. I mean, I guess I already live in a small apartment, but an even smaller one probably!”
Whilst academia has been one part of Rowntree’s life in Laramie, soccer has obviously played a major part in the goalkeeper’s time in the United States to this point. Juggling the two has been a struggle at times for Rowntree, but in the end the experience has proven to be rewarding.
“It’s really tough. When you’re a college soccer player in the US, you do a lot of travelling, it’s honestly the hardest part, having to miss lectures and labs and stuff like that because you’re off playing all over the country,” Rowntree explains.
“But the culture on the Wyoming team is very academically motivated; our team GPA was a 3.5 or something crazy. When we’re away everyone’s doing homework in the lobby or studying, and it makes you manage your time better and become a more professional student because you really have to be on top of all of your stuff.”
“In my freshman year we had a schedule where 14 of our 20 games were away games, so I missed a tonne of school, and that was a huge struggle, especially in my first year of college. You sort of just adapt, communicate with your professors and stuff like that.”
“I honestly think playing soccer made me a better student because there was no time to procrastinate, like I just had to get everything done, ultimately ahead of time. But it’s definitely hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
However, whilst the Cowgirls’ stalwart’s academic career marches forward, we may have seen the last of Georgia Rowntree between the sticks at a competitive level. Rowntree is nonetheless philosophical about her time in the game, choosing instead to focus on what football has delivered to this point in her life.
“I was definitely very fortunate that I was able to play college soccer. I was at a standstill in the Australian system, I’d been on a W-League team for a couple of years but I hadn’t really played, and there were a lot of excellent up-and-coming goalkeepers. And I was playing for Sydney Uni, but I’d been playing first grade since I was 15 or 16, so my career wasn’t going anywhere,” Rowntree reveals in explaining her initial reasons for making the move to college.
“Wyoming was the next big step, and I’d always sort of thought that once i was done at Wyoming I’d come home and try to play in the W-League again and I certainly could do that. I think I’m certainly good enough to do that, but four years of college soccer at 7,000 feet takes its toll on your body, and I’ve got pretty bad tendinitis in my knees and, you know, old people problems with my body. Hitting the ground hundreds of times a day as a goalkeeper takes its toll.”
Rowntree laughs as she says this and it is evident that she is comfortable with her decision to leave the competitive side of the game behind. So, is this a retirement call?
“For the moment, I’d like to say yes, but I’m sure you’ll find me playing rec league soccer in New York somewhere. I think I’m going to miss it too much. I certainly hope to coach somewhere. I’m not going to play competitively again, I don’t think. I’m not good enough to get drafted (to the NWSL), second of all everything hurts when i run,” Rowntree laughs a little once more.
“I have no issues with that, I’ve benefited so much from playing soccer. Ultimately, the game of football has brought me to this place in my life, where I’m about to attend the best university in the world and have this amazing professional career in my future. I love the game of football so much that I don’t think I’ll be able to be disconnected from it for a long time, but I just don’t think I can keep up the competitiveness that I’ve maintained since I was 12 years old.”
“I went to the Wanderers game on New Year’s Day and I was watching young Jada (Jada Whyman, Western Sydney Wanderers W-League goalkeeper) play – she went to school with my sister and is good friends with my sister – and I was thinking that would be so fun, playing before the men’s team, because I just love the Wanderers so much, my whole family are huge Wanderers fans, but then I thought about how much training she’s probably done this week, and I was just like ‘maybe I don’t miss it so much.’”
So, does Rowntree have any parting messages for the next generation of players considering a move to college?
“If anything I guess I’d just like young players to know that if they’re thinking about going to the States, it isn’t only an amazing way to further your playing career but also yourself as a person. A lot of people doubt the value of an American college education but the reality is that it is really an invaluable thing.”