MADISON — She’s been to the Class L state semifinals the first three years of her career and also has been the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC tournament.

Kayla Howard has definitely seen the highs of a fine career for the Hand girls soccer team thus far. Now, she might face her toughest test yet: being one of the leaders on a team trying to bridge the gap to its future.

Due to graduation and injuries, the Tigers now start three freshmen. The result was two tough losses to start the year.

“I think we definitely were playing tough opponents. The Gulford game really shocked us (5-0 loss in the season opener), so we came off that loss stronger. Mercy is also very strong (a 3-0 loss), so in that aspect we improved,” Howard said. “The girls are starting to know what to expect.”

Howard is also starting to know what to expect. After the team was shut out those first two games, she had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win against East Haven and scored four times against Wilbur Cross.

“I have to lead and obviously attack as a forward when I have my chances,” Howard said. “I have to take a bigger leadership role. As a senior, I have to know what to expect in all these tough games and I’ve seen these players from other teams multiple times, so I know what it takes it get as far as we could.”

Howard started as an outside midfielder during her freshman season. She was a key contributor and then blossomed during her sophomore year with 14 goals and five assists, earning a spot on the Register’s All-Area team.

“In her second year, she really got better and really stepped it up to be one of our better players in the second half of the season,” Hand coach Dave Dikranian said. “She scored some key goals, made a leap in terms of how she was playing. A lot of the older players came to respect her.”

Last season, Howard finished with 16 goals and eight assists to lead Hand to its third straight Class L semifinal as a No. 13 seed. The Tigers fell to Farmington after losing to eventual champion St. Joseph the last two seasons.

“Kayla has been a great player for our program in terms of what she can do on and off the field,” Dikranian said.

Among the freshmen is Howard’s younger sister Maya, who has made an immediate impact and an impression on Dikranian.

“I think she was the best player on the field (against Mercy) for both teams,” Dikranian said. “She won balls and she very aggressive.”

Said Kayla: “I give my sister advice at home because she asks and has watched me play for three years. The other (freshmen) have adapted really well.”

Mercy coach Marcus Harley said his game plan going into the 3-0 win was trying to deny the elder Howard the ball up top and “slow down No. 4 (Maya).”

Kayla Howard said she visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last weekend and plans to visit Tufts in October. She plans to play soccer next fall and possibly major in engineering.

For now, Howard’s focus is on quickly getting things back on track and having another successful season.

Connecticut Media Group