MOORHEAD — Claire Howell is ready for a fresh start close to home.

The former Moorhead High School standout sprinter struggled through an injury-plagued freshman year at the University of Minnesota, made all the more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. So she decided to transfer to North Dakota State to continue her collegiate track career.

“Coming back home after a tough first year at Minnesota and having that support system so close to me really fueled that (decision to transfer to NDSU),” said Howell, who won the 400 meters state championship for the Spuds as a junior in 2019.

Howell entered her name into the transfer portal knowing she wanted to go somewhere closer to home. She reconsidered every school that had offered her coming out of high school. When NDSU reached out to her with a fresh offer, she said it was pretty much an immediate lock that she would be heading back to Fargo-Moorhead.

“That was the place I was looking for,” said Howell of NDSU, which has won 14 Summit League women’s indoor track and field championships and 13 outdoor conference championships.

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Former Moorhead sprinter Claire Howell is transferring from Minnesota to North Dakota State. David Samson / The Forum
Former Moorhead sprinter Claire Howell is transferring from Minnesota to North Dakota State. David Samson / The Forum

“They’re definitely a very successful program. A lot of people who go into that program are successful, especially with all of their Summit League championships. To be able to be a part of that legacy was a big factor for me.”

Howell didn’t get to have the college freshman experience she was hoping for. She suffered a stress reaction in her foot a couple of months after arriving on campus in Minneapolis. The COVID restrictions didn’t allow her to create any deep connections or relationships there.

“It was a lot different than what I was expecting going into it,” Howell said. “Nobody knew COVID was going to happen. A lot of the rules were a little too much for me sometimes. I didn’t get to make the same connections as I would in a normal school year. With no sporting events, you couldn’t meet other people or other teams because you didn’t want to get sick.”

The injury, Howell thinks, was most likely a result of overuse. She played volleyball in the fall of her senior year and competed in weightlifting in the winter before her senior track season was canceled due to the pandemic. Howell speculated that maybe her body wasn’t quite prepared for the rigors of a college track season.

“(Because of the other sports) I wasn’t constantly running the same like I was during track season,” Howell said. “It’s pretty normal for freshmen to get hurt since we’re not used to the same volume and constantly running.”

She thinks being closer to home at NDSU and having her parents and siblings nearby will help make her second year of college a better experience. She’s been back living at home for a while now.

“My parents love it,” Howell said. “But I think they also want me out of the house at the same time. I’m excited to be closer to them and to be closer to my siblings so they’ll be able to watch me in the winter and when we go south in the spring.”