Howard sets up team for setting success

Sydney Howard transferred from South Dakota State this season.

David Nelson

For the second straight year, a talented setter has transferred to the Gophers. It was senior Alexandra Palmer last year. This year, it’s Sydney Howard.

The sophomore came to Minnesota after playing in 29 matches and 116 sets for South Dakota State last season.

“I picked Minnesota [because] I loved the atmosphere here and being in the city life,” Howard said. “I just wanted a bigger school, [and] the coaching and the team fit well.”

Howard looked at some other Big Ten schools as well as some schools in the Big 12 before ultimately deciding on the Gophers.

But with three other setters on the team, her role at the beginning of the season was up in the air.

“When [Howard] came to us, she was physical, but she had some biomechanical inefficiencies that kind of got in the way of her being good for long periods of time,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.

Still, amid those inefficiencies, her stout physicality earned her a role on the team.

“She’s a good blocker,” McCutcheon said. “She does do a nice job of getting stops, and she gets good touches. She’s been an asset to us in that role.”

For the 5-foot-11-inch Howard, blocking the ball has never been an issue. But she said she wants to continue to improve her other skills.

McCutcheon said he’s impressed with her development so far.

“I think, to her credit, she’s made some pretty significant changes,” McCutcheon said. “She’s been able to smooth out, and it’s nice now that she’s physical, and she’s got some skill to go with that.”

With so many setters on the roster, some coaches might find it taxing to decide which players merit court time, but McCutcheon sees it as a positive.

“It’s always good to have depth, and competition is a great thing to have,” he said. “Not only between positions, but also just generally in your gym.”

Palmer echoed her coach’s remarks and said she feels comfortable with a plethora of skilled players behind her.

“It’s really nice knowing, for this season, if I’m not getting things done offensively or at the net, that [Howard, freshman Katie Schau or sophomore Karyn Israel] are able to come in and help the team out,” Palmer said.

Howard, with 58 sets played this year, said she’s proud to have any role on the team. She said she didn’t know if she would even have much playing time this year. But over the course of the season, she has grown more comfortable with playing her part.

“I’m just glad I have the opportunity — any chance I get to be out there,” Howard said.

Palmer noted that with players like Howard, she knows the team is in good hands next year.

“[It’s nice] … knowing that the program has setters who are younger than me that can come help this program still stay dominant in the Big Ten,” Palmer said.