She went after them.
It was by happenstance, and Kaylan Howard was going to attend Indiana University-Kokomo regardless. But during a school field trip to the campus as a junior, she came in contact with the Cougars cross-country coaching staff.
The inevitable conclusion hit its apex Wednesday as she signed a National Letter of Intent to run for the NAIA program.
“I heard that there was going to be a field trip to see everything. I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, it’ll be fun. I’ll go and see what’s up,’” Howard recalled. “I was looking for a small college, and it was small and it’s nice. And it’s close. I thought, ‘Yeah, I really want to go here.’
“Then the question was ‘Did I want to run in college?’ And the answer was yes.”
Cougars assistant coach Josh Colvin was on hand to watch the signing and go through the ‘this is what happens next’ process with the Howards.
“Not a lot of students in general go on visits as juniors. I know maybe part of that is because they maybe want to see what the college experience looks like,” Colvin said. “She came and she contacted me, said ‘Hey, I’m going to be on campus. Can we meet?’ I met with her that day, and we’ve talked every since.”
Howard was a four-year mainstay for Mark Wyant’s program, showing steady improvement across four seasons and maintaining a time range in the mid to low 21-minute range over four seasons. She ran in four consecutive Semi-State meets; three of those were as part of an Indians team that qualified.
Howard’s best sectional time was 20 minutes, 59.56 seconds as a freshman. Her best regional time was 21:17 as a junior. And her best semi-state time was 21:38.3 as a freshman. Howard’s postseason times as a senior were between 21:22 and 21:44.
She placed sixth in the 3,200-meter run in 13:39.78 during the 2019 Benton Central Sectional.
“We’re trying to build a highly competitive team, and it’s always a process,” Colvin said. “But we also look for really awesome kids who want to take school serious and actually want to run, to get better. She epitomizes all of that, brings it all together.”
Howard is the latest Indiana female runner to join the collegiate ranks with her signing, following Peyton Kneadler, Madeline Lilly and Maggie Gutwein. Wyant believes Howard find the right place for her.
“It’s a good fit for Kaylan. She’s a good, hard worker and it will bring out the best in her, I think,” he said. “She’s got room for improvement, and I think they will bring it out of her. I’m happy that she’s going to a smaller school, a more ‘team-y’ situation.”
Howard has family friends in Kokomo, people she calls “a second family,” and likes head coach Jason VanAlstine’s vision as the coach’s tenure turns toward a decade on campus. The university as a whole is beginning to build up its athletic program and base significantly, and being a part of that energizes Howard.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve met the team, and every day just gets me closer and closer (to joining). I’m excited to get things started.”