Soldotna's Brittany Howard looks to pass the ball during a game against Nikiski earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
As the only senior on the Soldotna girls basketball team, Soldotna's Brittany Howard is both a link to the past and a bridge to the future.
As a sophomore, Howard was on a Soldotna team dominated by seven seniors that took third in the state.
After a junior season where the Stars won just two games, Howard is now the main link between the third-place team and this year's team of mostly sophomores and juniors.
"She's been there and she knows what it takes," said Soldotna coach Mark Tuter. "She's really dedicated. She saw what those players went through.
"That's why most days, by the time I get to school, she's already in the gym shooting."
Howard is the daughter of Pam and Al Howard. Al is an assistant principal at Soldotna. He arrives at the high school by 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. His daughter is usually in the gym shooting by 6:45 a.m.
Al said his daughter brings to mind a philosophy of former Soldotna boys coach Ron Becker.
"Ron Becker always said you play the game with respect, and to respect the game you play it as hard as you can," Al said. "When you watch Brittany and how hard she plays on defense, you get an idea of the respect she has for the game."
Brittany Howard has dabbled in other sports like volleyball and soccer, but basketball has been her clear favorite since she started playing it in the third grade.
"It's always been basketball for me," Howard said. "I put all my time into one sport, so I don't really have time for another sport."
As a freshman, the sport took Howard all the way to Iqaluit, which is the capital of the Canadian province Nunavut. Iqaluit co-hosted the Arctic Winter Games with Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Howard's under-16 squad took first place.
"There are so many little things I'll remember from that," Howard said. "The team made a bunch of funny videos.
"I'll always remember the friendships I made and the cold."
While the Arctic Winter Games brought Howard's game to a higher latitude, playing with the state team as a sophomore brought Howard's game to a higher level.
"I had to improve so much just so I felt good in practice," Howard said. "They'd never want the younger player to score in practice, so I had to pick my game up to another level."
After the third-place finish at state, Howard was the main holdover for the next year. The team packed with freshman and sophomores struggled.
"The younger girls now have a ton of talent, but it was tough because everyone who I had played with quit," Howard said. "It's taken awhile for us to learn how everyone plays."
The team has already surpassed last year's win total this season.
"They're learning how to be a team," Al Howard said. "I saw the same thing with that group before them. It takes awhile to learn from mistakes."
Besides steady defense, shooting and leadership, Tuter said one of the most important things Howard provides is attitude.
"She's not the most gifted physically, but she does try to play the game with everything she has," Tuter said. "There have been some girls where I've said, 'I wish I could have gotten more effort out of her.'
"That's never been the case with Brittany. She has two sprained ankles and still plays."
With her dad as the assistant principal and her mom employed in the school system as a nurse, it's no surprise that Brittany carries a 3.9 grade-point average and is involved with the National Honors Society.
Fishing and church also play a big part in Brittany's life. Al is a fishing guide in the summer. Last summer, Brittany, who received a rod and reel for Christmas, set a new personal high with a 68-pound king.
Brittany also is a leader in the youth group at College Heights Baptist Church and has worked with Solid Rock Bible Camp.
"It keeps my every day life in check," Howard said of her religion. "When I'm on the court, sometimes things can get pretty emotional. It helps keep some anger in perspective."
Al Howard sees the seeds of another solid team in the sophomores and juniors and said he hopes his daughter can be a part of that.
"At least I would hope the other kids would look at her and see the commitment and love for the game," he said. "It might instill it in them."
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