Ignacio High School volleyball head coach Thad Cano knows student-athletes like Makayla Howell don’t come along very often. Entering her final varsity season for the Bobcats, Howell’s play on the court and veteran leadership have helped IHS to a lightning-quick start.
Cano, who is in his ninth season as head coach, said that Howell’s even-keeled, yet highly-competitive approach has been a large reason why Ignacio is off to the races early on.
“Makayla is an extremely fair-minded individual,” Cano said. “She analyzes the situation and makes a decision. If something’s not right, she’ll tell you. Her leadership this year is phenomenal, and she’s going to be a big part of this team’s success.”
Cano said Howell’s qualities would be perfect for running a business, and he’s glad those qualities are showing up on and off the court.
“She makes a decision and sticks with it,” Cano said. “She’s not afraid to tell her teammates to step it up and call them out. But she’ll also be there to give hugs to her teammates and check in on them. It’s everything you’d want in running a business, and I’d have no problem with her managing my business. You can’t ask more of a high school athlete.”
The senior has helped propel the Bobcats to a 4-1 start, and they are ranked No. 7 in the latest Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 2A poll. Howell leads IHS in kills (42) and kills per set (2.3), as well as blocks per match (3.0). She was also a key piece of last season’s girls basketball team that came within one game of advancing to the 2A state tournament.
The Bobcats have not made the Class 2A playoffs since 2015, but for the last two years their win total has increased. Howell said that with a strong group of underclassmen and only two seniors in the program, this season’s team chemistry is as strong as it’s ever been.
“I honestly think the attitude of the team is a lot better,” Howell said. “We’re here to work hard, listen to coach and we all know we need improvement. We’re working hard to get that. Our dynamic this year is amazing, and all of us are connecting really well.”
Cano said team members are also focusing on self-improvement, as well as the mental side of the game.
The Bobcats will have Kim Cruz, an IHS alum and mental skills coach, stop by practice Wednesday to share knowledge and techniques about mental skills training, such as motivation, breathing, confidence and self-awareness. In addition, the program will introduce school psychologist Brad DeVar as another resource to keep spirits high.
Howell believes positive reinforcement will only help Ignacio as the season advances.
“Sports psychology is such a big thing now,” Howell said. “I’ve never done anything like it, but I think it will help us to stay positive and will improve our team dynamic even more. It will help us stay strong as a team, and hopefully, our attitude stay strong. We’re just a good group of girls that want to work hard and get to the state tournament, and we believe we can do that.”
While positive thinking and a renewed team chemistry have been crucial for Ignacio, Cano knows the season can change on a dime. But he said that with Howell’s leadership on full display, he’s confident in his team’s ability to handle adversity.
“These next six matches are going to define our season,” Cano said. “We’ve got some huge league matches against Telluride and Dolores, plus the Simla Tournament on the Front Range. ... I think Makayla will be a huge part of this stretch for us. I hope she can keep playing the way she has been and to keep leading us, as well.”
Ignacio will have another big test when it hosts Telluride (7-2, 1-1 San Juan Basin League), which received two votes in Monday’s 2A poll. First serve is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Ignacio High School.