(Photo by BYU Photo)
Two freshmen middle blockers came to BYU in 2012, unaware of each other and how similar their paths would be.
Senior women’s volleyball players Amy Boswell and Whitney Young Howard have shared the role of middle blocker for the past three years, and both redshirted the year before that. Not many people have the opportunity to work with a teammate who plays the same position for that long, but the self-described “old farts” are taking advantage of it. Boswell and Howard use their competitive friendship to push each other, taking turns earning similar conference awards each year and becoming the top two middle blockers in the nation.
“They have to look for different ways to compete because they are on the same court, or on the court at different times,” BYU women’s volleyball assistant coach David Hyte said.
The fifth-year seniors may play the same position, but different paths brought them to BYU.
Boswell grew up in Aloha, Oregon, and played soccer until fifth grade before wanting to try something new. She heard volleyball was fun and convinced her eighth-grade sister Kimberli to play as well. The sisters dreamed of playing together at BYU and were able to do so in 2012 and 2013 after the younger was recruited out of high school and received a scholarship.
Howard, a native of Roberts, Idaho, grew up playing volleyball with her dad’s family and watching older family members play. She also began playing volleyball in fifth grade. But unlike Boswell, Howard joined the recruiting game late after all of the BYU scholarships had been awarded. Hyte actually coached for Idaho State at the time and the Bengals offered Howard a scholarship. She turned down the scholarship and came to BYU instead as a “preferred walk-on,” later earning a scholarship.
Not long after arriving at BYU, Boswell learned her first year would be a redshirt season. Howard did not see action in a match that year and then agreed with coaches to use it as a redshirt season.
As freshmen, both girls competed for the only open starting middle blocker spot in 2013. Boswell earned the start in the first eight matches and then Howard started the rest of the season. Howard was named the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and received All-WCC Freshman Team honors. She also led the team in hitting percentage with a .413 clip.
“We were both competing for (the open spot). It was kind of like butting heads,” Howard said. “But since then, she’s one of my best friends on the team. I trust her more than probably anyone else on the team.”
The camaraderie between Boswell and Howard runs deep as they quickly point out each other’s strengths and are eager to brag. Boswell stands at 6-foot-4 and has long arms with a standing touch of 8-foot-5. Howard may be relatively short for a middle blocker at 6 feet tall and have small hands, but she is fast and has become a more vocal leader.
“They’re both great people, both really great blockers, but they both get it done in different ways,” Hyte said.
Because they play the same position, Boswell and Howard are never on the court at the same time. They watch each other play from the sidelines and offer pointers as they substitute in and out of the match.
“It’s really helpful because (the person sitting out) can see where the holes are in the defense, does the set need to be higher?” Boswell said. “All the time, Whit coaches me on my blocking so that’s really awesome.”
Hyte added that as middle blockers Boswell and Howard have the potential to affect every swing, no matter where the ball is hit. They see action every play and through observing, they can “pick up different tendencies and talk and help each other that way.”
Having a personal position coach right by their side helped Boswell and Howard win WCC Defender of the Year in 2015 and 2014, respectively, among other awards. Nicknamed “The Wall” for their defensive presence, Boswell and Howard were the No. 2 and No. 1 blockers in the country in 2014. Both have received All-WCC First Team as well as Academic All-WCC honors.
Boswell returns with a career average of 1.47 blocks per set. Howard also brings an impressive average of 1.55 blocks per set in her time at BYU.
Playing volleyball has taught both Boswell and Howard valuable life lessons of hard work.
Boswell described college sports, and especially at BYU, as a place where each athlete comes in as a former top dog in high school or on his or her club team. It can be overwhelming and athletes have to adjust to these new dynamics, but Boswell said a decision to work hard must be made as well.
“If you want something, you have to work your butt off for it,” Boswell said. “And I want this, so I’m going to do this, this, this and this.”
Howard feels she’s been able to prove people wrong by chasing after what she wanted. There wasn’t much competitive volleyball in her small Idahoan town, but Howard worked hard to walk on at BYU and then earn a scholarship.
“People will always tell you can’t do it and you’re not good enough, but you just have to shove it back in their face,” Howard said.
Heading into their senior and final year of BYU volleyball, both Boswell and Howard want to leave behind a legacy of blocking. Howard pointed it out that it takes more than just one good blocker to be a good blocking team.
Howard has also made it a personal goal to beat former BYU middle blocker and fellow Idaho native Nicole Warner’s blocking record of 31 solo blocks and 629 block assists. Howard has recorded 24 solo blocks and 470 block assists so far in her career.
As Howard described her goal, Boswell excitedly vocalized support and responded with “records are meant to be broken.”
Boswell added she wants to be known for her consistency, something head coach Heather Olmstead wants for each player. She recognizes that while there are games where “everything clicks,” there are also games where “you come back down.”
“I would love to just level it out and be consistent, someone my teammates can depend on, whether it’s through leadership or blocks or hitting,” Boswell said.
As Boswell and Howard look to their final season in Cougar blue, they reflect on their friendship and the time they’ve spent together.
“You see each other at your worst and at your best for years,” Boswell said. “And you can’t help but love each other by the end of it. It’s going to be bittersweet in December.”