THINGS ARE HEATING UP FOR POWERHOUSE LAUREN SCHAD
There are sounds distinctive to sports. When bat squarely meets baseball, crack echoes throughout the ballpark. Swish is for basketball, a shot from deep distance that makes the net dance like a grass skirt swaying in a breeze. Volleyball offers its own authentic acoustic. It’s when a player elevates, rotates the shoulders and lays palm to leather. The thwack comes not when hand meets ball, but when the ball caroms off the floor.
“Like a thunderclap,” says USD Women’s Volleyball Associate Head Coach Brent Hilliard. Late one afternoon in the summer of 2012, he was roaming a Columbus, Ohio, convention center lined with courts when all of a sudden he heard that distinctive wallop.
“I think she’s ready to step out of her shell. She has a chance to be a national team prospect.” Schad and USD teammate Canace Finley have been selected by USA Volleyball to the 36-player U.S. Collegiate National Team Program. Adds Hilliard, regarding Schad, “She has a chance to be very special.”
“It’s kind of humbling to hear him say that,” Schad says. “It’s different than your parents telling you you’re good.” There’s more about Schad that separates her from the norm. For one, she’s Native American. Some 334 universities sport Division I women’s volleyball teams. At an average of 15 players per team, that would total 5,010 Division I women’s volleyball players. According to the NCAA, only13 are Native American, less than 0.3 percent. Schad’s father, Ralph, was raised on the Cheyenne River Reservation about 160 miles from Rapid City. Her mother, Laura, is Native American.
Their ancestry is with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Like many people, the Schads are a blend of ethnicities, but the family most identifies with its American Indian heritage.
Lauren is the youngest of three sisters. Dinners were often spent with mother and father educating the girls about their native culture. Aunts, uncles and cousins lived on the same reservation where their father was raised, and the Schads often visited family there.
“I just remember being outside, running around,” says Lauren. “It was always sunny, always nice outside. We’d go to the pool. Go horseback riding. I had a really strong sense of family.”
Honoring her heritage, Lauren was given an eagle plume feather when she graduated high school. A tattoo on her right rib cage is shaped like a bear claw, representing her father’s maternal family name. The bear’s paw is designed in the shape of a medicine wheel, which, among many things, represents compass directions. “It reminds you of balance,” says Lauren. “To keep you centered. It’s important to know where you came from.”
After graduating from USD with a degree in anthropology, Schad plans to talk with an Indian elder, who will give her an Indian name based upon her unique characteristics. Her father’s Indian name translates to Screaming Eagle. Of her future name, Schad says, “I’d prefer something strong and powerful as opposed to something more dainty.”
She’s definitely not the shrinking violet type: One day in high school during a creative writing class, Schad was sitting with a small group of students. The subject turned to the nearby Black Hills and Native Americans. As Schad recalls, one girl had this to say about Native Americans: “They need to stop asking for handouts from the government. They need to stop moping around and do something to fix their lives. They need to stop drinking alcohol.” “You know,” Schad told the girl, “I’m Native American, and that’s really offensive.” “Well,” the girl said, “I don’t count you as Native American.”
“That made me angry. She felt like she couldn’t categorize me in my heritage because of the stereotype she had for American Indians,” Schad says. “I thought it was small-minded and ignorant for her to say. I was almost speechless.”
One way to combat ignorance is the pursuit of learning and education, which is supremely important to members of the Schad household.
Ralph earned two master’s degrees and works for a natural gas company. Laura is employed by a nonprofit that serves tribal communities. Lauren’s oldest sister, RaeAnne, a vocalist, graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Taylor, the middle sister, graduated this year from Stanford with a degree in Native American Studies.
There is an adventurous, bold side to Lauren. When she was a toddler, she liked to swing lying across the seat on her stomach. “She was always daring,” says her mother. By age 9 or 10 she was leaping off 15-feet-tall rocks at a small lake. She has plans to skydive. “I told her to wait until she graduates,” says Laura. That dauntless spirit helped produce a marvelous athlete. Leaping off one leg, Lauren can touch more than 10 feet off the ground, the highest on the team. Off two legs, she reaches 9 feet, 11½ inches. Only two teammates reach higher. That athleticism is important because middle blockers must move quickly from side-to-side.
“You’ve got to be able to explode short distances,” says Hilliard. “At 6-2, she’s long and lean, one of the most athletic kids we have on our team.”
Mount Rushmore sits 22 miles southwest of Rapid City. Sturgis, site of the famous SturgisMotorcycle Rally, is 30 miles to the northwest. Tourists make their way to the state. College volleyball coaches do not. Looking at the 2015 rosters of last year’s final regular season Top 20 Division I women’s volleyball programs, 67 players grew up in California. Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Sweden and England were each represented by one player. The number of players from South Dakota on those rosters: zero. Hence, the quality of Schad’s club volleyball competition in high school was not keen. “Her progress has been about what we thought coming from that low level,” says Hilliard.
But now, the Toreros are expecting more.
“The plan is for her to be our next All-American middle blocker,” says Hilliard. Petrie has built one of USD’s most successful athletic programs. The volleyball record the previous 16 seasons is 300-110. The Toreros advanced to the NCAA Tournament in all but two of those seasons. When Schad talks about the pride she feels representing USD’s volleyball program, she sounds likes she’s echoing thoughts about her Native American heritage as well.
“You feel a responsibility,” she says. “You take it personally. You want to uphold those traditions. You want to make sure the legacy lives on.” — by Don Norcross
Photography by Chris Park. Watch the video about Schad.