HUNTINGTON - Kylie Howard is finally back where she belongs, the infield of a softball diamond.
The former John Marshall standout has accepted a scholarship and will be suiting up for the Marshall Thundering Herd this spring.
''When I came down and visited, I really liked it,'' Howard said. ''They're like a nice little family here. I'm honored to play for them.''
While she's all smiles about it now, a year ago she thought she would never play competitively again.
It was the end of her senior year and Howard decided she was not going to continue her athletic career in college.
After all, she accomplished everything any athlete would ever want during their prep career.
She was a four time, first team all-state selection, the W.Va. Gatorade Softball Player of the Year following her junior season, and also won a state championship under Monarchs coach Ed West.
Still, the choice not to play was a difficult one.
She had Division-I offers to continue her softball career along with a plethora of Division-II schools that would have taken her in either softball or basketball.
Coaches wanted her, but after nearly a lifetime of waking up early to go to practice and the emotional toll of dealing with wins and losses, Howard had enough.
She enrolled at West Virginia University strickly as a student.
As the school year went on, however, she began to miss those early morning workouts, the satisfaction of walking away from the diamond or court a winner and, most of all, competing.
Howard knew she made the wrong decision and desperately wanted to get back into athletics.
She tried to walk on the Mountaineers' women's basketball team twice, but both times WVU was not accepting walk-ons due to an already full roster.
Howard then turned her sights on Fairmont State, where her friend and former Wheeling Park star Emily Puskarich is playing basketball for the Falcons. After talking with Coach Steve McDonald, he offered Howard the chance to walk on and join the team.
Before she agreed, she wanted to make another phone call, this time to veteran Herd coach Shonda Stanton.
''She was on vacation whenever I called,'' Howard said. ''I had to leave her a message. I was shocked whenever she called back.''
Howard asked if Marshall, who had recruited her since her sophomore year of high school, still had a spot for her.
''She told me she would be honored to have me on the team,'' Howard said.
A season after finishing runner-up in the Conference USA Tournament, the Thundering Herd won their first conference tournament title in 2013 and advanced to the NCAA Regional Tournament before falling to Virginia Tech.
Despite losing several key players from that squad, Marshall returned to its third consecutive conference tournament championship game last season before falling to Tulsa.
Now Howard, who hasn't played competitive softball in more than a year, will have a chance to be in the starting lineup at either shortstop or second base for the Herd when they begin their season this spring.
''I expected something a lot different at WVU. I didn't feel it was the place for me,'' she said. ''People dream about playing Division-I sports. I had to take this opportunity. I knew I would regret it again.''