Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected Prep Players of the Year based on a vote between sports editor John Livingston and photo editor Jerry McBride. Increased consideration was given to athletes who showed exemplary leadership on the field and in their communities.
Voted the most valuable player of the league in two sports and a first-team selection in all three, Mason Rowland was simply dominant in 2021.
The Durango High School sophomore was the talk of the Western Slope during the basketball, volleyball and soccer seasons. An all-state selection in basketball and volleyball and likely soon to be named all-state for the first time in her high school career in soccer, Rowland has already drawn the eyes of college coaches and earned the respect of the state. For her accomplishments, Rowland was named The Durango Herald Girls Prep Athlete of the Year for the 2020-2021 season. The award backs up her Freshman Athlete of the Year selection in 2020.
Rowland, daughter of Brady and Greg Rowland, is the first non-senior to win the award. She is the first DHS athlete to win since Maddie Jo Robbins in 2018 and is the third Demon chosen since the inception of the Herald awards in 2016, also joining 2017 winner Katrina Chandler.
“I feel honored and extremely grateful,” Rowland said. “To be considered with all the great athletes in our area and at our school, it’s a great feeling. I have to thank my family and my coaches for pushing me throughout it all, even when I didn’t want them to. And to all my teammates, you can’t get anywhere without a team, so thank you.”
Rowland did it all during a tough season for high school athletes. She didn’t take the basketball court until mid-January because of COVID-19 pandemic related postponements. Then, she went directly from the state basketball playoffs to volleyball season, where she helped lead the Demons into the Class 4A regional playoffs and their first league title since 2011.
As soon as volleyball was completed, she was on the soccer field, where she scored seven goals in her first four matches of the season while she helped lead the Demons to their first league title since 2017 and again into the Class 4A state playoffs.
It was a 24-week sprint with no time off to reset before she was on to the next activity.
“With the uncertainty of COVID this year, getting to play any sport was such an opportunity for everybody this year,” Rowland said. “We all just wanted to get back, no matter what sport. It was exciting to be back and able to play.”
Rowland is on track to graduate DHS in 2023 with 11 varsity letters, missing only her freshman season of volleyball. She was on track to play varsity girls soccer in 2020 before the season was canceled by the pandemic.
“She’s a once in a generation athlete,” DHS girls basketball head coach Tim Fitzpatrick said. “For her to have that type of individual success while leading her teams to success in all three sports, you don’t see that a lot, especially for an underclassmen. I was talking to some coaches – boys and girls coaches – within our league, and we don’t know if we’ve ever had anybody who has quite done what she’s doing. Her competitive spirit is really at another level.”
Through it all, Rowland has earned fans across town and has brought new supporters to Demon athletics events.
“Mason has this X-factor that allows her to play at a higher level no matter which uniform she puts on that day, and it appears effortless and natural,” Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr said. “She’s so fun to watch compete. Students should participate in as many activities as possible in high school, and she takes advantage of every opportunity and appears to have a blast as she out-competes those around her. Nothing fazes her, and she is incredibly humble at the same time and an amazing kid off the court and field.”
In basketball, Rowland was voted the MVP of the 5A/4A Southwestern League, and she earned her second consecutive CHSAA Class 4A All-State Honorable Mention award. She averaged 15 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals par game, all team highs.
DHS finished the girls basketball season 6-9 overall with a first-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Mullen.
“Having to play this season with masks and to jump right into a sport where you need to be in shape very quick, it was a bit of a shock,” Rowland said. “But once we were finally playing, it was great. The last two years, we’ve been able to build a foundation for Durango basketball by making the playoffs. Not a lot of people know about us around the state, but if we keep making the playoffs and work hard, we’re going to push further.”
Rowland had the quick transition from basketball into volleyball, which ordinarily would have been played in the fall in a normal year. She took it in stride and helped DHS win its first eight games of the season with upsets against rivals Montrose and Fruita Monument.
The Demons would finish the season 10-5 overall and 7-1 in the SWL to claim their first league championship in a decade.
Rowland, again named the league MVP, finished the year with a team-high 160 kills to go with 149 digs. Her 206 assists also were second on the team to show her well-rounded ability.
“I was very surprised and shocked but extremely grateful for what the coaches in the league have given me,” Rowland said. “But if my team wasn’t there with me, I would not have gotten those awards. None of my sports are individual sports. You have to be a team player.”
The DHS girls soccer team would finish the season 9-1-1 with an undefeated regular season before a playoff loss to Steamboat Springs. The 7-0-1 mark in league gave Rowland a third league title in as many sports during the season.
Rowland finished with eight goals, tied for second-most on the team, to go with five assists to match senior Clara Krull for the team-high. She put up all those numbers while playing as a box-to-box midfielder, assisting the defense and then racing all the way up the field to get in the offensive mix. Rowland also helped the DHS offense become dangerous on throw-ins, as she was able to heave the ball 40 yards into the middle of the goal box from the sideline.
“She covers so much space for us,” DHS girls soccer head coach Melissa Halonen said after Rowland scored three times in a rivalry game against Montrose. “We’ve talked about her as a (striker), but she just does so much defensive work everywhere on the field, and she’s still scoring goals.”
Rowland credited her family and sisters Brett and Kyle for her early success at DHS. Kyle, who graduated in 2021, also played all three sports as her younger sister with a group of upperclassmen who took Mason under their wing.
“It was very easy for me to feel comforted by everybody on every team because they have been so supportive of me since I was a freshman,” Rowland said. “I was very grateful that Kyle was there for me the last two years. I know she’s going to go on to do great playing basketball at Colorado College. Not only having Kyle but also Brett, we were always in constant competition with each other. It has pushed me to play up to their level, and it has helped me at the high school level with my competitiveness.
“I have to thank my parents, too. For as long as I can remember, we’ve always been playing some kind of sport. My mom played tennis, my dad was a swimmer, and everything about our family has been competitive in sports while they’ve supported us throughout it all.”
During a summer in which Rowland has continued to play all three sports, she is now looking ahead to her two years as an upperclassmen for the Demons. Her coaches know she will be up to the challenge of taking on more leadership roles to match her elite play.
“With my sister and all these seniors gone who I have looked up to, now I am someone the incoming freshmen can look up to. That’s a role I need to fill,” Rowland said.
And as for the questions as to which sport she wants to play in college, Rowland said she will enjoy taking her time to let it play out.
“I’ve got plenty of time,” she said. “It’s nice to know I have the opportunity to go to a place and continue to play. All I’ve wanted to do since I was younger was just go play in college because it’s so much fun, and to know I could do it probably in any of my sports is a good feeling.”