Since earning a starting role for the Dalton girls basketball team as a sophomore, Maddie Howell has been perhaps the most developed player in the area, constantly changing her game as her role has shifted over the last three seasons.
As a 10th-grader on the Lady Catamount team which advanced to the Class 3A state title game, Howell was a spot-up shooter and defensive force. With seniors April Besley, Quaneisha McCurty and Amanda Rector carrying much of the scoring load, Howell was a key part of Dalton’s pressure defense and was a 3-point outlet when defenses collapsed on the 6-foot, 5-inch McCurty.
During her junior season, Howell and Chandler McKinney were both at the top of the area with the duo earning first-team The Daily Citizen All-Area honors for their scoring and defensive ability. The 5-foot-9-inch Howell also had to provide help on the glass. She did both well, finishing with an average of 17 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
A senior this year, Howell is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Lady Cats, and she is the centerpiece of the team’s offense. When opposing teams collapsed on McCurty, Howell was the outlet. Now, Howell is the focal point of opposing defenses, and she is the one who has to open things up for others.
It is a role that coach Jeff McKinney takes advantage of. While Howell may score a lot of points, McKinney knows that isn’t what drives his senior.
“She doesn’t care if she scores,” McKinney said. “That is what makes her invaluable. Maddie is a special basketball player, and she is an outstanding leader on this basketball team.”
Said Howell, “I would rather not score and win than lead the state in scoring and lose, because losing isn’t fun.”
Losing hasn’t been a big part of Howell’s resumé during her time with the Lady Cats. Dalton lost just once in the 2010-11 run to the title game, and the Lady Cats were 18-6 last year, going undefeated in sub-region play before an upset loss to Gilmer in the Region 7-3A tournament.
That loss denied Dalton a chance to return to the state tournament, and it has weighed on Howell ever since.
“It was terrible,” Howell said. “All summer long, it was like trying to get over that loss and working twice as hard because you didn’t want to go through that again. The plus side is that I wasn’t a senior, but I hated it for (last year’s seniors) Chandler (McKinney) and Annie Kate (Snyder). It was such a shock. We were in first place one day and the next the season was over. I think we all learned from that.”
But so far this season, there have been lessons as well.
Howell injured her ankle early in the year, and missed four games. One of those was a loss to Murray County for the first time ever under coach McKinney. When she returned, Dalton dropped three in a row for the first time since 2007. The ankle injury combined with the losses — Dalton is 14-4 on the year — have put a minor damper on the year, but things have righted for the Lady Cats, and they enter tonight’s game at home versus LaFayette unbeaten in sub-region play.
“The ankle still hurts, but I just look at everything that happened this year as a minor setback for a major comeback,” Howell said. “It was frustrating when we lost those three straight games, but we got past it, and everyone has stepped up their game. I think that it is something that has brought us all closer together. We’ve had a little of a down side, but I have high expectations for this season.”
She has certainly done her part, averaging 19.5 points per game and averaging eight rebounds. She also has plenty of help around her with classmates Taylor Behr, Sarah Stinnett, Brooke Thomas, Mollie Snyder and Carson Sharp all playing major parts in a very balanced attack.
“We’ve grown a lot together since the season started,” Howell said.
“I hate that I hurt my ankle in my senior season, but everything happens for a reason. I am pushing through the pain, and I know that we will keep pushing toward our goals this year.”