Even in seventh grade, Perry Hall’s Courtney Shaw didn’t mind staying up late to ace homework assignments. Being recognized for good grades was “cool,” and she wanted to be at the end-of-semester breakfast honoring straight-A students.
As a junior in high school, she gave up a little more sleep to play basketball on the high-level Fairfax Stars Amateur Athletic Union team — a 90-minute one-way commute three times a week — to improve her chances to play at a top academic Division I school.
Shaw, a 6-foot guard-forward with more than 1,000 career points, achieved her goal when she signed in November with Northwestern, where she plans to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering.
“Northwestern was me reflected in a college,” Shaw said. “It’s where I would want to go if I could imagine my perfect college, just because of the academic and athletic side. I was so excited.”
The Northwestern coaches began recruiting her heavily last summer after watching her at a spring AAU tournament. She said Wildcats coach Joe McKeown wanted to offer her a scholarship after the Nike Nationals in July. There was just one problem.
“It was funny,” Shaw said, “because he said they were taking a long time with my transcripts, so he didn’t know if I had the grades at first.”
She has a 3.88 GPA and has taken 11 Advanced Placement courses. Last year, she took five AP courses at once: U.S. History, Physics I, Physics II, French and English. As a senior, she’s down to three: Psychology, Statistics and English. Her strong scores on the AP tests should give her some college credits before she starts classes at Northwestern in September.
I want to work with healing or making movements better for everyday people and for athletes, to create things that would help.
Perry Hall senior Courtney Shaw on why she's interested in biomedical engineering
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While Shaw said a lot of athletes look to major in exercise science or physical therapy, she liked the appeal of engineering to assist with physical challenges.
“I knew I wanted to apply something, and engineering gives you the freedom to create things. The biomedical aspect came in because I want to work with healing or making movements better for everyday people and for athletes, to create things that would help. It’s interesting to me, but I’m not sure specifically what I want to do yet [in biomedical engineering].”
With a complex major, Shaw likes the extensive academic support Northwestern offers athletes, although grades have never been a problem for her. Her parents always stressed academics, and she felt challenged to keep up with her sister Kaelyn, now at Maryland.
She also followed her sister onto the court in sixth grade. Although Kaelyn soon stopped playing, Courtney opted to focus on basketball over soccer, gymnastics, dance and Taekwondo, where she earned a black belt at age 12.
“I started Taekwondo when I was 5 and I did it for seven years,” she said. “I think starting that young and sticking with it — I was fighting grown men at one point — there was a certain discipline it taught me, but I did have to make a choice because it was getting to be too much. I was taking a lot from [Taekwondo and basketball], but I had reached a point where I had achieved the goal I set for Taekwondo, so I decided I would move on to this exciting new thing.”
In eighth grade, Shaw started playing AAU basketball, but she decided last year that she wanted to play for a more elite program, leading her to the Fairfax Stars.
“Being around that amount of talent just in practice raised my game,” said Shaw, who overcame a severe ankle sprain just in time to try out for the Stars.
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The ankle injury forced her to sit out most of her junior year at Perry Hall, but she now averages 20 points and 17 rebounds. As the Gators (14-5) prepare to host Dulaney in their first-round Class 4A North regional playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m., Shaw has 1,052 career points and 868 rebounds.
“When you see her, you think she’s a center or a forward,” Gators coach Linda Caccavalla said, “so as a coach, you put her under the boards instinctively, but then you see her style of play. She’s strong and assertive. She has an outside shot, an inside drive and a pull-up, so she really is a guard. At 6-feet I’d rather have her inside but she plays better as a guard at the 2 position, a shooting guard — and she can still rebound.”
Shaw, who also played volleyball at Perry Hall, learned a lot from her experience with the Fairfax Stars about what to expect from the demands of college basketball — and not just on the court. During two weeks in March, she had tryouts every day after school and a tournament on weekends, which kept her up late to finish schoolwork.
“I was taking five AP courses and, of course, I live in the Perry Hall area and I was commuting to Virginia three times a week. I think that prepared me really well, too. Sometimes kids struggle with the school aspect when you play high school sports, especially if you play back-to-back seasons, so it was a good experience, because it’s going to be harder in college with more practice time and all the travel.”