Behind the Balance: Courtney Novotny ’25 — Keydet Women's Water Polo

鶹 Institute’s cadet-athletes have to juggle cadet life, heavy academic course loads, and their NCAA Division I sport. Committed to both academic and athletic pursuits, balancing their rigorous schedule in both sports and school requires a certain level of commitment and discipline. Behind the Balance is a series that focuses on those cadet-athletes and how they handle the hurdles of the day-to-day 

LEXINGTON, Va. Feb. 20, 2024 — Courtney Novotny ’25 starts out each week with a plan. Every Sunday she goes over what needs to be done for the coming week. It’s the only way she can stay organized and on target for all her goals, especially since she’s one of the co-captains of the water polo team, handling her classes along with cadet responsibilities.  Water polo co-captain talks about balancing student life, academics, cadet responsibilities, and being a D-1 athlete.

“It just comes down to having good time management skills and organization skills,” she said. "I'm planning out what I have to do every single week, so I know what practices I have to be at and what military obligations that I might have. You always want to be two steps ahead when it comes to school because if you're not two steps ahead, you're going to get behind. For me, the balancing of all three of those things is just planning and knowing what you need to do for school.” 

鶹 Institute was a place where all her interests could intersect.  

“When I came on my visit to VMI, just the structure of the school and knowing that I can do ROTC, water polo, and major in biology at the same time was just exactly what I wanted. Because at another school, it would be a lot harder to balance all three of those things at the same time,” she said. 

Organization and balance are some things that have been instilled in Novotny’s life since high school, while she took classes outside of her high school and participated in athletics.  

Water polo co-captain talks about balancing student life, academics, cadet responsibilities, and being a D-1 athlete."I was always very organized and always ahead on my schoolwork because I had sports and stuff like that,” she said. “I didn't have as much free time after school as some other kids did. So, staying on top of those things was crucial and I was able to transfer those skills to VMI.” 

The biology major from Reading, Pennsylvania has been playing water polo since the fourth grade, which is not entirely common on the East Coast. But Novotny said that Pennsylvania has a large water polo community. Growing up in a swim-centric family lent itself to her finding water polo.  

“I just fell in love with it right away. I was just naturally pretty good at it,” she said.  

She loves the team aspect, especially with the small team at VMI. It allows the players to be close with one another. Having that camaraderie is key in a difficult sport like water polo. She said she’s gotten a lot of friendships out of it.  

"It’s a really hard sport because not only do you have to know how to swim but also you have to know how to tread water,” she said. “It's a unique sport a lot of people don't really know that much about. It's a very rewarding sport.” 

She also enjoys getting into the pool every day for a good workout. It allows her to take her mind off all her other responsibilities.  

Cadet-athletes at VMI not only have their responsibilities with their selected sport but cadet duties on top of that.  Cadets are also required to take physical fitness classes twice a week, participate in ROTC all four years, prepare for room and uniform inspections, practice for parade, guard duty, and more. 

Her days can vary, depending on her schedule for classes and practice. Some days require an earlier wake-up, like when she does early morning lifting, she gets up at 5:15 a.m.  Water polo co-captain talks about balancing student life, academics, cadet responsibilities, and being a D-1 athlete.

Novotny isn’t sure if she will commission after graduating in 2025, but she is part of the Coast Guard auxiliary university program, which entails a lot of outside work and responsibilities. She said to stay on top of things, she takes the days she doesn’t have as many classes to get caught up on schoolwork. She lacks free time in the evenings because of practice.  

“I always try to tell myself even if I am having a bad day or if I do bad on an assignment that's OK because that happens and I always make it through and overcome,” she said. "Usually, a lot of times, if I'm having a bad day, going to practice helps because it gets my mind off of it. I'll go to practice, and I'll be with my teammates. I forget about everything. Then I'm laughing and smiling. That's the nice thing about playing a sport here is that you kind of get a break from academics.” 

Despite the busy schedule, Novotny said she likes the grind at VMI. Even though some days she wants to ditch practice and take a nap or do homework, she wouldn’t change it.  

“Being so involved at VMI is preparing me for the future,” she said. "When I'm older and I'm working, you're always going to have a lot of responsibilities. So even though it is hard sometimes and I wish I didn't always have to go to practice after classes, when I really think about it, it's good to have this responsibility. Because it's preparing me for what else is in the future.” 

Laura Peters Shapiro
Communications & Marketing
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 

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