By Leah Rado, Saint Benedict Athletic Media
ST. JOSEPH, Minn. -- It's kind of fun to do the impossible.
Those simple words are written on one of several plaques that adorn Carol Howe-Veenstra's office in the College of Saint Benedict athletic department.
They are also words that Howe-Veenstra can relate to.
From beating the unbeatable opponent to finding money to add another varsity sport for female athletes at CSB, Howe-Veenstra has achieved the impossible many times. And now, after 30 years with Blazer athletics, she's taking one more seemingly impossible leap: she's stepping aside.
Howe-Veenstra, who came to CSB in 1985 and served as the head volleyball coach for 15 years and the school's athletic director for the past 28 years, is retiring June 19, 2015, she announced Thursday, Oct. 2. Leaving won't be easy for Howe-Veenstra, who is rooted firmly in the sports community in both St. Cloud and Minnesota.
"I love my job. I still loved coaching when I chose to step out," Howe-Veenstra said. "I want to leave while I still enjoy the work day after day.
"That's always been very important to me, that I leave when things are going well."
It's easy to look back at Howe-Veenstra's coaching career and mark her success by numbers – by wins and losses (366-150), All-Americans (10) and all-conference athletes (14). From 1985-99, Howe-Veenstra guided the Blazers to 11 trips to the NCAA Division III National Tournament, including seven trips to the Sweet 16. She earned MIAC Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1989 and 1997, and was named the NCAA Central Region Coach of the Year in 1986 and 1990.
It was also in that time that she and her team did
It started when Howe-Veenstra, who finished her first season at Saint Benedict 6-32, guided the Blazers to a 26-10 overall record, a second-place finish in the MIAC and a trip to the national tournament in her second season at the helm.
Then there was the time the Blazers played St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, in an NCAA playoff game. The winner of that Wednesday night match flew out Thursday morning for the regional tournament in San Diego, California. CSB was down 2-0 against a good St. Olaf squad, but the Blazers came back and won sets three, four and five to earn the trip to San Diego.
MORE THAN WINS AND LOSSES
In her tenure at Saint Benedict, Howe-Veenstra has preached more than just success on the court. Her passion lies in making sure that women – especially her Blazer athletes – have every possible opportunity to play the sport they love, and to excel at it.
"Carol has very high standards," said Mary Geller, vice president for student development at CSB. "Her staff works hard because she expects the absolute best in terms of performance and character.
"I think it's the high expectations that have really led the Blazers to be not only winners in the MIAC, but if you look at the quality and characteristics of our student-athletes both academically and personally, these are well-developed, confident young women."
Just giving women the opportunity to play sports wasn't enough for Howe-Veenstra, so once again, she defied the odds. She was a part of three different building committees for the current Haehn Campus Center, which opened in 1996. She started the Blazer Hall of Fame in 1992 to recognize and honor former Blazer athletes, staff and teams for their outstanding contributions to Blazer athletics, and she has been a key adviser to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for many of her 30 years.
Howe-Veenstra played an integral role in adding both golf and track and field as varsity sports in 1987, and in 1997, with support from administration, she put together resources for the first varsity hockey program in CSB history.
"Carol has been the foundation and the driving force in CSB athletics in becoming a consistent contender as one of the top teams in the MIAC," said LuAnn Reif, professor of nursing at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University for 33 years and the athletic department's faculty athletic representative for 30. "She has committed herself to establishing a vision and support of excellence for the department. As importantly, Carol has also been the champion for the development of women athletes. Through her leadership, she has touched thousands of students and has inspired many to the ongoing pursuit of excellence."
Howe-Veenstra has been recognized both locally and nationally for her work. In 1995 she was given the St. Cloud Technical High School Breaking Barriers Award, and in 2002 she was recognized for her leadership and support of Girls and Women in Sports Day. In 2011, Howe-Veenstra was named the Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators – an award that spanned all divisions of collegiate athletics.
"It's difficult to summarize what a person has meant to you professionally and personally," said Blazer basketball coach Mike Durbin, who is entering his 29th year with the program. "Carol has been a friend and mentor to me. Selfishly I'm sad, but I couldn't be happier for Carol, because 30 years is a long time, and she's accomplished so much. She has left the department in a position of strength on so many fronts."
LEAVING ON A HIGH NOTE
While Howe-Veenstra's legacy is one that leaves big shoes to fill, she is not leaving the department in a lurch.
"I think (Carol leaving) is both a challenge and an opportunity," Geller said. "It's an exciting time in women's athletics. We have a lot to offer the next athletic director coming in. They'll be inheriting a phenomenal coaching staff and some great plans for new facilities. It's easy to sell Saint Ben's."
Howe-Veenstra said she hopes people remember her passion and dedication to creating a positive environment for Blazer athletes, as well as creating a personal relationship with her staff.
She is also excited to see what other opportunities exist for her. Howe-Veenstra's successor is slated to start July 1, 2015.
"Probably more than anything, I'm ready to create space in my life to see what's out there; see what opportunities exist," Howe-Veenstra said. "Who knows what I'll do with more time, but I look forward to that new challenge."