On the days that Drake women’s basketball player Courtney Becker has to wake up early, she’ll set two alarms on her phone. The first, a quiet ring, will peacefully go off in her room at Drake’s Goodwin-Kirk Hall dorms. A minute or so later, a less-subtle alarm goes off if Becker has gotten up.
“It is loud,” Becker says with a chuckle. “Loud. I don’t know what it is. Beeping.”
Becker, a 6-foot sophomore forward for the Bulldogs, has an important job to do. A few days every week, she’ll will make the trek across campus early in the morning to the school’s recreational center to test Drake student-athletes who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“There are days when I’m just really not feeling it and I wish I could hit snooze,” Becker said. “But, I can’t.”
Becker, a key contributor on the Bulldogs’ basketball team, understands there's risk to this. But it’s one that Becker is willing to make right now as she goes to school, plays basketball and helps in a small but important way during the omicron surge.
“I like to think that I’m making a difference,” Becker said.
Courtney Becker draws out a plan for success
Becker's father, Jason, remembers the life plan Courtney created when she was around 13 years old. Courtney had a long list of goals she wanted to accomplish. They included getting her driver's license, going to prom and earning a college scholarship. She even outlined how she wanted to go to pharmacy school.
"She is very efficient and she plans and she executes that plan very well," her dad said.
Drake offered Courtney a shot to accomplish some of those goals. Becker became a star basketball player at La Crosse Aquinas High School in Wisconsin, where she averaged 13.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a senior. She was so good that the Bulldogs offered her a scholarship. It seemed like a perfect fit.
Drake not only boasted a stellar women's basketball program in the Missouri Valley Conference but a respected pharmacy school. That's part of what lured Becker to the Des Moines university. Becker figured it could help her reach one of her long-term goals in pharmacy.
As soon as Becker stepped on campus, she started making progress towards it. Becker, who averaged 3.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and was named to the MVC's All Freshman team, joined the school's pre-pharmacy program. During that first year, she took a class in the spring of 2021 on how to test for COVID-19.
The move paid off later in the fall when Becker learned the athletic department's training staff needed help because of the pandemic. The school's trainers had more tasks added to their workload with COIVD-19 testing. They not only had to test athletes but had to report the results and deal with a ton of paperwork.
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Angie Dahl, Drake's head athletic trainer, enlisted the help of students to help with testing. Becker jumped at the opportunity. Jason admits he had concerns about his daughter potentially exposing herself more to the virus. But he figured she would be in safe hands at Drake.
Besides it's the type of work she always wanted to do. This was her opportunity to help.
"That's kind of how she is," Jason said.
'I'm just happy to help them out'
The early morning alarm is just the start of what can be a long day for Becker, who balances her job testing athletes, going to class and basketball. Becker makes the eight-minute walk her dorm room to the Bell Center. Testing begins at 7 a.m., for student athletes that aren't vaccinated. Becker will work on a racquetball floor designated for COVID-19 testing.
Becker has to test each athlete on her schedule with nose swab and wait around 15 minutes for the test develop. After processing their test, Becker will record the results. She estimates she gets through about 15 athletes in 45 minutes. Becker stays safe by wearing a mask, face shield and gown and gloves. They help alleviate some fears of getting COVID-19 from the work.
But it has still been in the back of her mind. That was the case when she tested an athlete and it came back positive for the first time.
"I kind of sat there and stared at it for about 30 seconds," Becker said.
Becker's contributions are a huge help to Drake's training staff. Dahl said it's a huge help having Becker, who is organized and reliable despite a hectic schedule that includes 13 credits along with practices and games for basketball.
"It really speaks to her love of sciences and the health fields and wanting to really get in there and dig in and practice what she could be doing in the future," Dahl said.
Becker is doing pretty well in the present. She's once again a valuable contributor on the floor for the Bulldogs, averaging 5.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists through 17 games this season. Becker has become a versatile option for Drake coach Allison Pohlman.
But what impresses Pohlman the most is how Becker has stepped up during the crises.
"She's essentially on the front line," Pohlman said.
The fact that Becker is willing to do it is part of why Pohlman sees such a promising future for her. Becker hopes to start pharmacy school next year. It'll put her on the fast track to those big goals she outlined in high school.
But she's already achieved one of her life long goals of helping people.
"I feel like there's been many healthcare workers that just take on a lot more responsibilities than they're used to," Becker said. "So, honestly, I'm just happy to help them out by taking testing off their plate."
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Drake basketball's Courtney Becker on front lines of COVID testing