There aren’t a lot of guarantees in life — unless you’re Sacred Heart Prep swimmer Ally Howe.
Over the last four years, you could just about book it that Howe would be selected swimmer of the year and this year in no different. For the fourth straight time, Howe is the San Mateo Daily Journal’s Girls’ Swimmer of the Year — the first four-time winner of this Daily Journal honor.
If there was any doubt she would be garner the selection again, she put it to rest with a dominating performance at the Central Coast Section championships, winning four titles — two individual and two relay golds — and setting three CCS records.
“There aren’t a lot of people who work as hard as Ally Howe does,” said Sacred Heart Prep coach Kevin Morris. “She leaves SHP as the best swimmer in school history. She currently holds eight school records in all eight individual events. Put it this way: She could come back for her 25th high school reunion and her name will still be at the top of the (school) record books.”
And despite all her individual success — during her high school career she won six CCS individual championships — Howe was most delighted to finally win relay gold this season. She led off the 200 medley relay and teammates Selby Sturzenegger, Kayla Holman and Kathryn Bower brought home a new CCS record of 1 minute, 43.25 seconds, earning All-American honors in the process.
In the 400 free relay, Howe, teaming with the same trio as the previous relay, swam the anchor leg and chased down Monta Vista’s Carly Reid to snatch a second relay title with an All-American time of 3:25.03.
“I definitely think the relay titles were more surprising. They were the more exciting races for me,” Howe said. “Our team had never won a relay championship before.”
Said Morris: “[Howe’s] anchor leg was amazing. All the three other legs had lifetime bests.”
The individual events, however, are where Howe has made her name and she has dominated the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley — an event in which she swims 50 yards of the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle.
With her win in the 100 back this season, she won four straight CCS titles in that event, dropping her time and setting a record each season. She swam a 53.31 her freshman year and capped her high school career with a new CCS record of 51.54 — nearly three seconds faster than the second-place finisher.
Her time also broke Missy Franklin’s private school mark. Franklin was the toast of the 2010 Summer Olympics in London and is currently swimming at Cal.
Howe came close to breaking Franklin’s prep mark last year and vowed to get the record this season.
“Just missing the record last year was a little frustrating, but it gave me motivation,” Howe said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not dropping a lot of time, but it makes it worthwhile when you drop time again. When I do drop time, it reflects all the hard work I’ve put in.”
Her win in the 200 IM was her third in four years and second in a row. The only time she didn’t win the CCS title was her sophomore year when she finished second.
This year, her time of 1:57.75 set another CCS record, topped her nearest competitor by more than two seconds and earned yet another All-American nomination.
“I just go in (to CCS) with the mind-set of doing the best I can,” Howe said. “If I think about it too much, it kind of stresses me out. I don’t think I swim as well when I’m tense and nervous.”
Morris main goal with Howe, then, was to keep her loose.
“I knew she would have a great year because she puts a lot of pressure on herself. But she was a lot more relaxed this year. It was more about enjoying her senior year,” Morris said. “As her (high school) coach, there’s not much I can do to make her go faster. I can make her smile and make her feel good about herself. When she’s laughing and joking, you’re in for something good.”
Howe is a little different than most high school athletes in that she does most of her training with her club team, Palo Alto/Stanford Aquatics. She would practice with her SHP teammates only once a week, but despite the relatively little amount of time she spent with them, Howe did her best to remain just another swimmer on the Gators’ squad.
“All my high school teammates are really supportive. They know I go with my club team (to do most of my training). My club coach has been really flexible with the whole club-high school team thing. [My teammates] understand it,” Howe said. “I don’t consider myself a celebrity at all. … I definitely have a goofy personality around my teammates and they see I enjoy what I’m doing.”
Howe will now take her talents to Stanford University next season and compete against some of the best swimmers in the world in the Pac-12 Conference — including an anticipated showdown with Franklin — and concentrate on qualifying for national and Olympic teams.
“She certainly has Olympic trial [times]. The difficulty is, in the U.S. … you can only send two to the Olympics. Her 100 back time (at CCS) would have been fifth at NCAAs,” Morris said. “But she’s going to a really strong Stanford team. I think she’s ready to take it to the next step.”