Since they were in the eighth grade, recruiters have sought Missouri City volleyball standouts Bria and Cimone Woodard. The six-foot-three twins who attend Episcopal High School and play competitively for Houston Skyline Juniors Volleyball Club, had verbally committed to Texas A&M University, but after deep reflection, decided Howard University would be a better choice.

“We just started researching, and sitting and watching. We talked to the A&M coach, and they were just really supportive of our desire to go to an HBCU,” Bria said. “At Howard, we get the best of both worlds – excellent academics and athletics.”

“We’ve attended schools where we were looked at as just an athlete. We thought about what it would be like at Howard, an environment where everybody looked like me and just felt like we wouldn’t have to prove that we deserved to be there like everyone else,” added Cimone. 

The twins acknowledged that playing at Howard would not be the same as playing at a “Power Five” institution like Texas A&M, and they wrestled with their decision, particularly because they believe in honoring their commitments. But they say thankfully, both the coaches at Howard or Texas A&M allowed them room to come to their own decision.

“Neither school put any pressure on us,” Cimone said. “The Howard coaches were super excited that we were interested in Howard, but they weren’t putting any pressure on us to choose either way. So that made it easy to take a step back and evaluate what we really wanted.”

The powerhouse players are still deciding on majors, though Cimone is leaning toward Biology. They both are just grateful for the chance to be athletes and students.

“I’m just glad that I can have this new experience,” Bria said. “I’ve never like really truly had it.  It’s going to be so empowering being with people who look just like me, who are just as driven as me and are all looking toward having big futures. It’s literally the Mecca. I’m excited.”

With the recent social uprisings across the country, there has been a steady trend of high school student-athletes making verbal commitments to compete at HBCUs. Because of that, Bria and Cimone’s parents, Krystene and John Woodard, could have easily pushed their daughters to go to an HBCU, but chose not to.

“We’ve been talking about HBCUs our entire life because that’s just who we are,” said Krystene, who attended Xavier University of Louisiana along with her husband, John. “We’ve always told the girls they could go whereever they wanted and so we wanted to remain true to that and allow them room to make this lifelong decision on their own.”

The twins have had interest and offers from a significant number of Division 1 schools, so the decision to attend Howard made their parents ecstatic, especially because it means they’ll become fifth-generation HBCU graduates.

“They didn’t understand the magnitude of their decision. So many in their village are happy because we know what an HBCU can do to prepare young gifted and talented Black teens and young adults for a successful future. So the reaction is different. The jubilation is different.”