November 24, 2020

Jenny Howard discusses life as dual-sport athlete at Webster

For Webster University sophomore Jenny Howard, Mondays have recently been one of the tougher days of the week.

Howard, a biology major with an emphasis in health and medicine, wakes up at 7:30 a.m. for her 8 a.m. class. She finds some time to grab something to eat throughout the afternoon, as Howard has classes until 4 p.m. At 4 o’clock, Howard heads to track practice for the Gorloks. At 6 p.m., she hurries to volleyball practice where she sharpens her skills as an outsider hitter.

Webster University outside hitter Jenny Howard (far left, No. 18) — then a freshman — celebrates with her teammates after the Gorloks score a point in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship match against Greenville College (Ill.) in 2011 at Grant Gymnasium. Howard won SLIAC Newcomer of the Year in 2011 and Player of the Year in 2012. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS.

When volleyball practice ends at 9 p.m., Howard said she hopefully finds time to lift weights in the University Center’s fitness center. After that, Howard returns to her dorm room and stays up late to work on her homework, sometimes finding a moment to relax and listen to Jason Mraz or watch TV.

This is a typical Monday for Howard, a two-sport athlete taking 17 credit hours this semester at Webster. But Howard has managed to find success in both sports — volleyball and track.

In 2011, she won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year award for volleyball. Last fall, Howard earned SLIAC Player of the Year for volleyball. So far in the outdoor track season, she ranks 17th in the nation in the 100-meter dash with her time of 12.47 seconds — 0.8 seconds slower than the program record, which Howard set in 2012.

“It’s definitely tough sometimes,” Howard said. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I just want to skip practice or take a nap. It’s definitely rewarding, though. I love both sports, and it keeps me in great shape. I’ve made so many friends. It has its ups and downs, but it’s really rewarding. I love every minute of it.”

Two sports at two schools

Howard, who also owns the program record in the 200-meter dash (26.05), said she started playing select volleyball competitively in fifth grade. Howard kept playing through high school. In her senior year at Duchesne High School in 2010-11, her team lost in the district finals to a team Howard said it should have easily beaten.

Though she was “burnt out” on volleyball her senior year, the loss did not resonate well with her.

“Having it end so suddenly and not very well showed me I was going to miss it,” Howard said. “That’s when I contacted a couple of schools and (Webster) coach (Merry) Graf recruited me, and that’s why I decided to play volleyball (in college).”

Graf saw Howard play for the Kirkwood Volleyball Club when Howard was 17. Current Gorlok assistant coach Abby Williams was also an assistant coach for Howard’s club team. Graf and Williams worked to recruit Howard, asking her to tour the campus and meet the volleyball team.

Howard said she loved Webster’s campus, which helped her decision to play volleyball for the Gorloks. That was the plan for Howard — only volleyball. Her freshman year at Webster, Graf told Howard about Webster’s track and field program and suggested she talk with then-coach Dusty Lopez. Graf said she encourages athletes to pursue two sports if they are passionate about it because she said she was a two-sport athlete as well.

Howard also ran track at Duchesne and set her personal record (PR) in the 100 with a time of 12.15.

“I was just going to run my senior year,” Howard said. “I wasn’t going to run in college. But, at the state meet my senior year, I was in the 100, and I was favored to win — but I ended up getting third. I was kind of upset by that. I was kind of on the fence still. When I came here and talked to coach Dusty Lopez, he kind of convinced me. I gave it a try; I realized I missed it. I missed competing a lot, so I decided to come back for good.”

With that, Howard became a two-sport athlete at Webster. This season, three volleyball players — Howard, sophomore Kristen McDowell and freshman Lauren Hoover — all compete for the track and field team.

Different training for volleyball, track

Track assistant coach Scotty Barnes said he sees Howard as a team leader for the women’s track and field team.

“There’s a lot of natural ability there, obviously,” Barnes said. “She’s wired to run fast, No. 1. No. 2 really is she’s just one of those kids who you don’t have to push her to do more — it’s more you have to reel her in from doing too much.”

Howard said her training styles vary between her two sports. For track, Howard said her workouts require more leg strength than volleyball.

“Some days I’ll do quicker stuff  like out of the blocks, but some days I’ll do longer workouts to get me more strength and endurance,” Howard said. “Overall, it’s a more explosive regimen than volleyball.”

Howard said her work with Barnes and the other short-distance runners has raised her bar for track season even higher.

On the court, Graf said Howard’s success comes from her drive to always perform better, even during matches. She also thinks of Howard as a team leader and said the other players look up to her.

“I really think it’s her competitive nature,” Graf said. “She doesn’t settle well. If she thinks she’s had a bad game, she’s really going to take it to heart, analyze it, figure out what she needs to change and what she needs to do differently to be more successful the next time.”

Howard said her training for volleyball is oriented more toward upper-body strength and arm swings.

“In volleyball, especially at the college level, you have to be quicker and hit harder, so I work a lot on that,” Howard said. “I am short, so I have to work on my vertical a lot over the summer. I’m 5-foot-6, and I’m going up against girls who are 6-2, maybe taller.”

The two training styles for volleyball and track combat each other, especially in the offseasons, Howard said.

“The more I run, the more I feel my vertical has decreased,” Howard said. “Obviously, that hurts me in volleyball. I have to work extra hard over the summer. They kind of butt heads as far as training.”

But an injury in one sport can spell doom for both sports. Howard, who sustained a stress fracture in her foot during Christmas break, said she sees the athletic trainers regularly in order to prevent injuries that could hinder her.

“I do ice a lot, especially when I’m feeling really sore or achy or my foot starts hurting,” Howard said. “I try to be as preventative as possible. I don’t try to wait until it’s at its absolute worst.”

Howard’s future goals

Howard wants to help the Webster volleyball team advance past Round 1 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Graf said if Howard combines her skills with the rest of the team’s talent, a Round 1 win is something the team could look forward to. Howard also wants the team to be regionally, if not nationally, ranked by her senior year.

Webster University track member Jenny Howard (left), then a freshman, runs at the Washington University Invitational in 2012 in Clayton. Howard holds the program record for the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. ARCHIVE PHOTO.

Barnes said if Howard stays healthy, she has a chance to run the 100 at nationals this year. Howard’s goal is not only to reach nationals, but to break her PR of 12.15 in the 100 while at Webster.

After Webster, Howard said she wants to possibly go to veterinary school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She wants to devote her life to caring for pets.

“I think animals are everything that humans should be,” Howard said. “I think they love unconditionally. They’re everything that humans strive to be and should strive to be. That’s why I want to dedicate my life to taking care of them and helping them.”


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