Sydney Howard battles expectations in final season
Fairfield’s Sydney Howard has two state titles, and with them sometimes feels she has the weight of an entire community on her shoulders.
Tuesday, after concluding the indoor track season at the Dickinson Relays in Cedar Falls, she felt it.
“It’s pretty scary actually,” admitted Howard, who claimed gold in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the state meet in Des Moines last May. “It’s a different year with new competition. There could be freshmen who are way fast, or people that actually trained over the break that they had.”
The expectations, built up by herself and others, could be the hardest part of starting a new season. Howard is by no means quiet, but she doesn’t like to boast about her past accomplishments, either. For her, it’s all about what she has done lately.
“I feel like I have to win state this year or it’s going to be an embarrassment,” Howard said, adding she’s well aware of the challenge that comes with defending a pair of championships.
“It’s difficult definitely, especially at these indoor meets where we have more competition than we’re used to. After these meets everyone is like, ‘You got fifth?’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, but that’s really good for who I’m running against!”
Fair or not, Howard is not only defending two state titles but her results on a daily basis. She has earned the right to be recognized by runners around the state, and their expectations for her are almost as high as her friends’ projections.
“I do get talked to a lot by people in my heats that are like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to run against you.’ But I answer, ‘It’s really not that bad. Trust me.’”
“I think people think I’m faster than I really am. There are a lot of Sydney Howards out there.”
Others who know the sprinter well, like assistant track coach Nancy Diers, aren’t as quick to dismiss Howard’s immense ability.
“Sydney has pure athletic talent. Track is just her sport, and she has speed in those legs that I think we still haven’t untapped,” said Diers, who added Howard is also a great team player.
“The nice part is she’s willing to try all the different [races]. She’s a lot about the team. Wherever she can help the team she’s willing to go,” she said. “There are certain days that we know she’s going to go in the open 100 and 200, but we also don’t want to pigeonhole her in certain events. That makes it boring for her and we want to make sure we challenge her.”
Howard, the first Trojan girl to ever win two state titles in the same season, doesn’t contribute her success to anything out of the ordinary. Running is simply in her blood, she said.
“I think I get it from my aunt Zena [Howard]. She ran here, and she was a very, very good runner,” Howard said.
Of course, all the natural ability in the world isn’t enough to win a state title. Sprinting is as much about speed as it is about technique, and Howard has fine-tuned her’s over the past three years.
“We did a lot with blocks her freshman and sophomore years. Last year we worked with it a bit and tweaked a few things to get her a little more comfortable in the blocks,” Diers said. “Every sprinter is a little bit different. Some like themselves more compact or a little more spread out, and we found out Sydney likes to be a little more spread out.”
Diers said she knew long before she was Howard’s coach that the state champion had something special.
“I got a sneak preview seeing it at the middle school doing our fitness tests,” said Diers, who is the physical education teacher at FMS. “She had her name on the board for things like the 40-yard dash that we do and the shuttle run.”
However, Howard didn’t realize just how fast she was until she “almost beat Libbey [Schubert]” as a freshman.
“She was not very happy about that,” Howard joked.
It was also her freshman year when she discovered running was something she enjoyed.
“When she came onto the scene in ninth grade she had a nice tutor in Libbey Schubert, who had some pretty nice feats herself,” Diers said. “Everybody was kind of looking at Libbey, so Sydney could just kind of ease into that spotlight. By the end of the season, everybody figured out we had a 1-2 punch there.”
With Schubert, Howard saw a senior with swagger and a perfect model of what it took to win a state title. Together, the freshman-senior duo qualified for the state meet in 2010, and both placed in the 100- and 200-dashes. While Schubert made good on her promise to win the 100 title, Howard finished close behind with a fifth-place time. In the state 200, Schubert took second and Howard was again right behind in sixth. The pair, along with Edna Jones and Kiersten Vaughan, also finished runner-up in the 4x100 relay that year.
“Between the coaches and Libbey, we just kind of brought Sydney along at a real nice pace for her,” Diers recalled.
The rest, of course, is history.
Howard went on to place higher in her next two seasons, one-upping herself each May on the way to the very top. As a sophomore, she won silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200. Then, as a junior last season, she handily claimed her first two state titles. On that day in May, Howard’s times were not only the fastest in Class 3A, but in the entire state of Iowa.
“What a great atmosphere to showcase what she did … and win fairly decisively at that,” Diers said.
The problem with getting to the top of the mountain, though, is having nowhere to go once the summit is reached.
“It’s a good thing that I won last year, but now having to defend your title is a scary thought,” Howard said. “It’s just nerve-racking.”
Howard said her primary goal is to win a pair of state titles again, but her expectations don’t end there. The senior has her sights set on beating the Class 3A state meet record in the 200-meter dash. Last season, her winning time of 25.18 in the 200 finals fell just shy of setting the new state meet record. The current mark sits at 25.16 seconds, set by Benton’s Callan Jacobson in 2007.
“I almost beat the record last year, and that would be kind of cool to beat it,” she said.
Howard, who currently owns the school record in the 200 and was part of the record-setting 4x100 in 2010, also wouldn’t mind breaking a third school mark. She eyes the 100-dash record of 12.13, which was set by Schubert in 2010.
Diers, meanwhile, stopped short of setting any lofty goals for her star senior. Instead, Diers said she just wants Howard to enjoy her final season on the high school track.
“We just want her to have a good year, an enjoyable year, and have fun while she’s doing it. Hopefully she has the opportunity to put herself in that position [at state] again. If she does, she does. If she doesn’t, it’s not a knock on what she was or wasn’t able to do. It’s just the circumstances. You just never know, and you can’t predict what the future is going to be.”
No matter what happens, sometime in the future Howard’s high school career will come to an end. The state track meet is scheduled May 16-18, and graduation follows a few weeks later. Although the senior would like to continue running after high school, she doesn’t know where her career will take her. But she does think she could look good donning cardinal and gold.
“I think I want to try running at Iowa State,” she revealed. “I haven’t talked to anybody yet.”