Howell’s last hurrah: Lady Jags head coach moves on

Before the girls head soccer coach and English teacher Alley Howell took over, the Lady Jags carried a five-year losing streak without scoring a goal in two years. The team saw a turnaround in the 2021-22 season, tying their first game against Providence Christian Academy. With news of Howell’s impending resignation at the end of the 2023-24 school year, the team is searching for new leadership once again. 

After her wife accepted a new job in Atlanta, Howell made the tough decision to leave Cedar Shoals. She has already accepted a new coaching position at North Springs High School in Fulton County for the boys varsity team. 

“I’m not leaving because I want to. We’re moving because it’s what’s best for my family. It is so bittersweet. I wish I could stay and help this program become all that I know it can be. I’m really sad to leave but I’m very hopeful that we can find someone who believes in the program like I do,” Howell said.

In the 2022-23 season, the team finished 7-9-1 under Howell’s leadership, the best record that the program has had in over a decade. To get there, Howell created a space for girls who love the game while reshaping players with valuable potential. 

“I can’t take all the credit. The first thing I did was weed out negative activity. If certain players weren’t willing to get on board, they were simply asked not to return. We struggled that first year because we were missing players that could have made a difference, but they weren’t getting on board and that’s such a big part of it. I had players that did buy into it and they just ran with it. These seniors right now, Stephanie Trigueros and Lilly McGreevy specifically, are true pillars of what I hope this program continues to be,” Howell said.

SENIORS OUT: Head coach Alley Howell (right) and assistant coach Hannah Doolittle (left) stand next to the team’s seniors during senior night on April 12. These graduating players had their final game against Banks County with a 10 to nothing win on senior night. “I hope that whoever comes in next year is as great a coach as coach Howell was,” senior Abril Osorio-Arellano said. Photo by Isabella Morgan.

Setting their expectations high, Howell and English teacher and assistant coach Hannah Doolittle have reshaped the standard. Setting the stage for next year, the team finished this season 8-10, winning seven games with an additional forfeit by Oglethorpe County. Doolittle hopes to continue the progress they’ve made in their last two seasons and find someone as knowledgeable as Howell to lead the team.

“Coach (Howell) and I talked a lot in the beginning about what our expectations were going to be so that we made sure we were on the same page. If you’re late to practice, that’s not okay. If you’re failing classes, that’s not okay. If we find out you’re tardy, that’s not okay. Being a good athlete really starts with being a good student in the classroom, so we really made sure our expectations were clear so that we could communicate those to the girls,” Doolittle said.

By evaluating each player’s abilities, Howell deciphered each player’s strengths. This process allowed the team to reach a turning point last season.

“Their technical ability wasn’t great. Their soccer IQ was low, but they all really cared despite losing a lot. As far as tactics go, these girls were not playing in the right positions. Getting players in the right spots helps with going forward and scoring goals. In our scrimmage my first year we tied. Taking a program in my very first game as head coach from not scoring made me excited about the rest of the season,” Howell said.

While shifting positions as the new head coach, Howell faced difficulties with divisiveness. With a lack of structure and discipline, the team struggled to play as one and produce positivity. Once Howell got the girls in the right spots into the game, it created a space for them to enjoy playing. 

“When you improve someone’s skill, the byproduct of that is you improve their confidence, you improve their leadership, you improve their positivity and their excitedness to play. When you get better individually, your team gets better as a whole and your culture grows and it becomes a more exciting place to be,” Howell said. 

Playing as a forward, sophomore Arianna Allen took up soccer from an early age. Although she didn’t play for Cedar as a freshman, Allen recognizes Howell’s contributions to the team. 

“I felt a little sad and disappointed because I thought she could be here for my next year as a junior. I feel like she knows everybody’s capabilities and how we can have a season just like this one,” Allen said. 

Allen plans to continue playing soccer at Cedar. Though she’ll miss Howell’s coaching, she is open to a new coach. 

“I want to see a coach that knows what everybody can do, and put us in the right position like Coach Howell,” Allen said.

Doolittle plans to remain an assistant regardless of who takes over head leadership of the program.

“We have girls on varsity who need someone who knows more about soccer than I do. I see how much work (Howell) puts into it. I don’t have the soccer knowledge that she has. My plan is to keep our systems in place, to keep our expectations in place, to keep supporting the girls emotionally, and to make sure whoever comes in as head coach has that foundation so that they can then continue to build,” Doolittle said. 

With the growth that took place in the last two seasons, Howell’s leadership has been an essential part of helping the team win. Hoping to find someone with her knowledge and dedication, they’re continuing to prepare the formation for next season while maintaining the structures in place. 

“There’s this idea that when you’re a leader, you need to leave well, and I think she’s leaving well. She’s making sure systems are in place, having conversations with people about next year and the year after. Who are the girls that we have now? What is our formation going to look like next year? She’s already scheduling us for next year’s games that she knows we can win. She’s leaving us in the best position possible,” Doolittle said.

Finding consistent coaching throughout athletics remains a problem for Cedar. Most educators cannot commit themselves to the responsibilities of coaching a school sports team for little extra pay. 

“There are not many people who want to coach. It’s the same with teaching. Then finding a teacher who also wants to coach and is willing to put in 20-30 extra hours a week during their sports season for very little pay. It’s a big ask for somebody,” Doolittle said. 

Junior Finn McGreevy remains apprehensive about the new coaching staff coming into the next season. Starting on the team playing left wing and now center back, she has realized her own growth as a player on the field. She knows she will need to carry that energy next season.

“I think that I can influence others positively including the freshmen that are just coming in. Especially because I have my doubts that the new coach coming in won’t be as present as Coach Howell is currently. But I want to continue to build this program and I want to be a part of the community that has been cultivated over the past years,” McGreevy said. 

As a freshman, when she heard that her English teacher was the new coach, McGreevy was instantly attracted to the idea of joining the soccer team to build a community while playing with her sister, Lilly.

“Howell advertised the program in a really positive light. At the same time, my sister was playing, so it was an opportunity to get closer with her. I had seen where the program was beforehand and I knew Coach Howell had so much potential to bring this program up, so I was excited to be a part of that,” McGreevy said. 

Howell recognizes that a positive attitude is what pushes the team forward to improve as individual players and teammates. 

“The girls will lose a game and then come back the next day and forget about it. You have to forget about the bad days. If we go and we lose somewhere, we leave the loss on that field. We come in the next day, and it’s a new day. They have taught me to let things go and find the positive,” Howell said. 

Ericka Wilson

Junior Ericka Wilson is a new staff writer for Cedar BluePrints. After high school she would like to study speech pathology. For now, she is involved in the Cedar book club, BEE club, DECA and enjoys writing, hanging out with friends, and trying new things. Wilson’s favorite thing about journalism is the ability to report on topics that interest her.

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