Lizzy Howard wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
Howard had played soccer for the Columbus United club team for 12 years and earned a starring role on the Heritage Academy squad by her junior year, but she wasn’t sure an opportunity to play the sport at the college level would present itself to her.
Then Mississippi University for Women soccer coach Catie Lyles reached out with a question: Would the Patriots’ center midfielder be interested in competing for the Owls?
“‘Oh, this is my time,'” a somewhat surprised Howard thought to herself.
“‘Of course,” she told Lyles.
Tuesday afternoon, in a socially distanced ceremony in the Heritage Academy library, Howard took the next step toward the future she wasn’t certain she could achieve, signing her letter of intent to MUW.
“I chose MUW because it’s really close to home and Coach Lyles’ program really interests me,” Howard said.
Tom Velek, Howard’s coach with Heritage Academy and Columbus United — and a professor at MUW — said he was happy to see Howard take the next step in her soccer and educational careers.
“As a coach, I’ve known Lizzy for a very long time, and I’m very confident that The W is getting a great player,” Velek said. “As a professor at The W, I can assure her and her family that they are getting a great institution for her to continue her soccer career and continue her higher education.”
Howard said Heritage Academy helped her get out of her shell and into a leadership position; she was a team captain her senior year.
“It really helped me a lot coming out of my comfort zone and teaching me a lot more about how I need to look at how to play soccer,” Howard said.
Heritage Academy assistant Jonathan Tuggle, who worked with Howard from her years in youth soccer through her time with the Patriots, said he was proud of Howard for her signing Tuesday.
“She’s been a joy to work with and really has made the time fun for me,” Tuggle said.
Howard said she’s nervous about fitting into the Owls’ roster, but knowing three players who are already on MUW’s squad — Caledonia High School alumni Hanna Pettigrew and Lizzie Truelock and former Heritage Academy teammate Haley Marie Fisackerly — should help.
Velek, who joked about the 5:45 a.m. practices at The W to Howard minutes before her signing, said his midfielder is set to excel at her hometown college.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Velek said. “I’m really happy for her, and I think she’s gonna be great.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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