With county champion Woodstock present, as well as traditional cross country powerhouses like Walton, Milton, Roswell, and Lassiter, Etowah found the odds against it unfavorable.
But under the guidance of Howard, the Lady Eagles defied expectations and edged Lassiter by a single point for fourth place.
It was a moment Howard said was the highlight of the season.
“I was extremely proud of our girls to make it to state after doing the same thing last year,” said Howard, whose squad also finished fourth in its 2011 region meet. “This year, we outdid last’s year performance to make it. With so many teams at the region meet ranked inside of the top 10, it was kind of beyond what I expected. I wouldn’t say it was some kind of miracle, though, as I always believed the girls had a shot.”
As a result of his team’s ability to surpass expectations, Howard is the 2012 Cherokee Tribune Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Howard said it was the effort put forth by his runners that resulted in this season’s success.
“I think that, if someone had been there and watched our girls make it to state, they would see that our girls ran as a team and put their full effort forward,” he said. “They knew that if they ran as a team, they had a chance of going to state.”
Howard was able to lead the Lady Eagles to state despite having six freshmen among their top 12 runners, and having no seniors inside of the top 14.
“This group of girls was an extremely young, yet hungry group,” Howard said. “If you asked them to do something in a race, they would go out and do it. I think they showed that they were committed and believed in themselves. They just kept improving the whole season and put their best race out there when it mattered.”
Etowah went on to finish just outside of the top 10 at the state meet in Carrollton, finishing 12th. It also finished second at the county meet, behind only Woodstock.
With not a single runner graduating, Howard feels his girls squad will soon be competing for a region title.
“Next year, we should really be trying to win a trophy at every race that we attend,” he said. “There are always factors that are out of your control, but to have everyone back next year on a team that took second in county and made it to state, I really think that we will be competing for a region title and a top four finish at state.”