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Jaelin Howell aims to ‘let loose’ with Racing Louisville

Jaelin Howell signed a contract extension with Racing Louisville. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

Every game day morning, Jaelin Howell walks into the Racing Louisville facilities with a cup of coffee. She oscillates between plain black coffee, espresso or a latte with almond milk, but she never uses any flavoring.

“I like to taste the beans,” she tells Just Women’s Sports.

Then, she takes time to journal, putting on her headphones to help her visualize the kind of game she wants to have. She follows her moment of zen with a prayer. And then she heads off to get hyped in the locker room with her teammates.

That series of events provides the perfect combination for Howell: She gets dialed in, then lets loose and has fun. In her first season in the NWSL, which included some growing pains, Howell discovered the importance of a game-day routine. She’s not superstitious. She just knows what works.

And now, after a rookie campaign in which Howell started all 22 of her team’s matches, she will have a chance to perfect her routine off the field and her play on it. The 23-year-old midfielder signed a contract extension Tuesday, adding another year to her original deal and keeping her with Racing Louisville through 2025.

“Racing has treated me super well, and they’ve always invested in me,” she said. “I see a lot of great things in the future of the club.

“I felt really comfortable my first year, and I felt like the staff and the players really embraced me, and I felt like it was a good environment for me to be in for the next couple of years.”

Howell was the second overall pick in the 2022 NWSL draft following a successful college career at Florida State, where she won back-to-back Hermann Trophies and led her squad to two NCAA titles.

In college, Howell became accustomed to success — her Florida State teams went a combined 72-14-12 — but Racing Louisville didn’t see the same kind of results during her rookie season. The club went 5-8-9 on the year and missed out on the playoffs.

Still, Howell believes the team has the right combination of youth and experience, as well as the resources and facilities, to take the next step in 2023.

“Our team got closer throughout the season, and I think we are going to make the right adjustments to come out and have a different season, and get the results we want,” she said.

Racing Louisville has a young roster, and adjusting to life in the NWSL takes time, Howell said. The college season is much shorter and less of a grind.

So Howell learned to prioritize recovery, listening to what her body needed throughout the grueling season. She also had to work on the mental aspects of the game.

“I didn’t realize the expectations I had put on myself, coming off of a national championship and a MAC Hermann,” she said. “I just really wanted to prove myself in the league, and I think, honestly, put a little too much pressure on myself.”

Howell started seeing a sports psychologist. By the middle of the season, she felt more confident on the field. Howell has always been a perfectionist, and seeing a psychologist helped her get out of her own head.

“I want to control everything, and I would get in my head about stuff,” she said. “So a lot of it for me was just letting go, letting loose and just playing. I found myself playing a lot better, a lot more free, and it helped me tremendously.”

With her rejuvenated mental state and the young talent around her, Howell believes good things are coming for both her and her team.

Individually, one of those things could be a more permanent spot on the U.S. women’s national team. Howell has made five appearances for the USWNT since 2020, including three in 2022, but she wasn’t named to the most recent roster for the squad’s two friendly matches in New Zealand.

“Hopefully, we continue to get more and more talent (at Racing), and we can commit and push each other in training environments,” she said. “I think our performance last year didn’t really show the capabilities that we have. I’m excited to see our potential, and I think that, combined with our fantastic facilities and training environment, is going to help me grow.”

Howell is growing and changing, and so is the league. Both for the better, Howell thinks.

The rookie joined the NWSL during a tumultuous time. The Sally Yates report and the NWSL and NWSLPA joint report, both published during Howell’s first year as a pro, uncovered patterns of abuse and misconduct in the league. Racing Louisville was cited in both reports, with former coach Christy Holly at the center of the allegations, though the club was far from the only one implicated.

Howell is glad the issues have come to light, and she is optimistic for a better Racing Louisville and a better NWSL going forward.

“I’m looking forward to the changes being implemented and the future in 2023,” she said. “I think the league and the club are heading in the right direction. I’m excited.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.