Makayla Howell has always been the master of her own voice. Her tone was strong but rarely overbearing. Her timing during in-game situations was impeccable, and her words to teammates were precise, direct and detailed.
The Ignacio High School senior was captain of both the Bobcats’ girls basketball and volleyball teams, and while her strong leadership qualities proved to be pivotal in helping Ignacio reach the postseason, it was her voice, one that was rooted in passion and an unwavering support, that always carried through the loudest.
In the process of leading the Bobcats to the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A Great 8 of the state basketball tournament as well as the volleyball team’s first regional appearance since 2015, Howell spoke highly of her coaches, teammates and opponents.
For her accomplishments as a leader on and off the court, Howell edged Durango High School senior cross-country and track and field star Madeleine Burns for The Durango Herald Girls Athlete of the Year.
Howell, daughter of Magdelena Flores and granddaughter of Neoma Quintana, was named to the CHSAA Class 2A All-State Second Team for volleyball and Class 2A All-State honorable mention list in basketball. She also was named the salutatorian of her graduating class at IHS.
“I always wanted to be there for my teammates first,” Howell said. “There are a lot of people that have the ability to play and aren’t humble about it. I never thought I was better than anybody else. We played for each other and, to me, it was always about the team.”
Burns, who will run at Princeton in the fall, was a strong candidate for the award after her fourth-place finish at the CHSAA Class 4A Girls Cross-Country State Championship race. She was expected to defend her state title in the girls 3,200-meter run at the state track and field and look to improve upon her third-place finish in the mile run from her junior year, but the COVID-19 cancellation of spring sports prevented Burns from getting a chance to shine on the track.
Howell got off to a strong start to her senior season when she helped the Bobcats to a 13-12 record in volleyball and a long-awaited return to the postseason. She led IHS in kills (214) and blocks (119) and was second in digs (224).
For former Ignacio head coach Thad Cano, who stepped down at the end of April, seeing Howell’s numbers continue to increase every season was impressive, but not as clear as her ability to lead.
“I’ve been coaching volleyball for 29 seasons, and I’ve never had a leader quite like her,” Cano said. “Her maturity, sense of fairness, self-initiation, she’s a very talented student-athlete.
“Both her offense and defense were really good. She could place a ball wherever, and her recovery from offense to defense was also very fast. But on top of that, again, she would have a chat with a player who was struggling on the court or be vocal from the bench. She had both the psychological and skill side of the game down.”
A tenacious and scrappy player on the basketball court, Howell led the team in scoring at 8.4 points per game. She also was second on the team in rebounding with 4.4 per game. She was determined not to give up easy baskets, and even though she would get into foul trouble, girls basketball coach Justa Whitt said it was tough to take her out.
“When I first started coaching her, she always told me that she never wanted to come out, and you could see why,” Whitt said. “She had the fire and passion to go after every loose ball or rebound. And when she did need a breather or was in foul trouble, she would never sulk. She gathered herself and led beautifully from the bench.”
Howell and her teammates came together to support the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign in an awareness game Whitt put together at the start of the season. Howell was among the most active participants and felt she and her teammates had a great opportunity to show that the Bobcats were passionate about more than just basketball.
“I think it was a first for a team like us, a high school girls team to bring so much awareness to the cause,” Howell said. “The fact that we did surprised people, and I hope it continues on. It can be a legacy moment for the program, which I hope it is.”
Howell will attend Fort Lewis College in the fall where she intends to major in business administration. She hopes to continue to lead and use her voice for positive change in the future.
“I definitely want to continue to strive for big things and keep my goals high,” she said. “I’m definitely the type of person that’s like, ‘We’re going to do it,’ and I think the best is still to come.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and former sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.