Anita Howard arrived to CSU summer 2016 on a mission. She studied her basketball team’s talent, and by spring 2017, she turned her student-athletes into champions.
“It’s been a surreal first season,” said Howard, CSU’s third head coach in the history of its women’s basketball program. “To go from becoming the program’s first female and African-American coach to developing a team that won two major titles is a big deal.”
The fourth-ranked Lady Cougars went straight into “March Madness” mode — from the time the season started. Under Howard’s defensive-drilling coaching style, the team claimed its fifth Peach Belt Conference tournament title at the beginning of March.
By mid-month the Lady Cougars secured the NCAA Southeast Region championship — a victory that became the third region championship in program history and the first since 2001. “Defense wins games,” she said, “but my girls also knew they had to have a warrior mentality before stepping onto that court every time.”
When the Lady Cougars hit the floor in February against Clayton State, they made history: The team won 100-69; players Brittney Tatum and Ashley Asouzu became the 10th and 11th players in program history to reach 1,000 points; and Howard also reached her 100th career win.
“Each of them knows what their job is on the floor,” she said, “and they do their job well. Every game they pulled one another through.”
Off the court, the Lady Cougars did the same. Howard makes sure they participate in monthly team-building and community service activities to extend their on-court collaborative lessons.
“From reading to local kids and visiting the elderly and animal shelters, I’ve gotten to see them in a different light throughout the course of this season,” said Howard. “Understanding each player’s strengths and weaknesses away from the court contributed to what we needed to practice more of when we got back on the court.”
After collecting their Peach Belt Conference regular season, tournament and Southeast region wins, the Lady Cougars concentrated on national victory, but were stopped short in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. The Lady Cougars faced Virginia Union at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, March 21 and lost 78-73.
“Hats off to Virginia Union,” Howard said. “They made us go outside of our game. Stuff we usually hit didn’t go in. Passes we usually make, we didn’t catch.”
Despite the upset, Howard still felt she came to CSU and delivered on what she promised the institution and her players.
“To be 31-2 now is no small feat, and this game does not define who the Lady Cougars are,” she said. “This game does not define who these seniors are. This game does not define our season.”
Howard also concluded the season receiving the John “Whack” Hyder Georgia College Women’s Coach of the Year by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year for her team’s performance.
“I will never forget the night more than 1,700 Lady Cougar supporters watched us win that regional championship game against Lincoln Memorial,” Howard said. “I will always remember what these ladies did on the court and the classroom to achieve victory. All that we went through also taught them about the game of life. I can’t wait to run it back next year.”
DID YOU KNOW? The same night Anita Howard’s Lady Cougars won the semi-finals, Columbus High School’s girl’s team won the state championship. Howard’s daughter, Thallan Howard, is a member of the high school team.