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Howland handles Crestview, 8-0

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Crestview’s Braeden Stallworth (12) battles for possession with Howland’s A.J. Sanders during the Rebels’ loss to the Tigers on Friday at Howland.

HOWLAND — In the words of Howland Tigers coach Brian Stiles, his squads are typically slow-starting teams, who don’t find their groove until the middle of the season.

Howland’s start on Friday isn’t exactly what you would call slow, ripping two goals in the first three minutes of the contest en route to an 8-0 season-opening victory against the defending state runners-up Crestview.

“I’m really proud of the kids,” Stiles said. “We actually didn’t have everybody in until August 1, and this was the earliest we’ve ever started. Typically we’re a pretty slow starting team but the boys really put it together. They played real well.”

In the opening minute, senior Jet Hua made his presence known early, beating Crestview keeper Braden Devine to put the Tigers on the board. After battling an injury all summer, there’s a relief on the Howland bench to get him back on the field.

“He’s been fighting through a hamstring injury all summer and he’s just now starting to get back to full power,” Stiles said. “It’s really good to see him out there playing because he’s a force for sure.”

Howland (1-0) is in a much different spot this year. With eight returning starters from last season’s team, the continuity is a big plus.

“We have eight starters returning from last year which is a little bit better than what we had last year where we were really starting over,” Stiles said. “We were trying to piece together some of our younger players. We’ve got a lot of young talent. I want to get them some experience and I thought they played really well tonight.”

Now a full season removed from their state title, the Howland Tigers, who still have a sizable group of kids on the roster from that team, still have the lessons from 2020 ingrained in their minds, without the lofty expectations of a title defense.

“I think last year we had a lot of weight from just trying to carry on the 2020 season,” Stiles said. “I think this year it’s refreshing to not carry that weight so much. But on the other hand, we’d also like to be known as a state champion.

“Last year, if you won 3-0 people were looking at you like it wasn’t a good victory. This year, we’re kind of away from that a little bit. These guys are making their own names for themselves and it’s really nice.”

Crestview (0-1) is in the same position this season as Howland was last year. In their title defense season, Howland had a chunk of starters to replace. The Rebels are replacing seven starters this year.

Returning to the team however is Nick Novak, who will be a guiding force for the team this year. The Rebel roster has been putting in work this offseason on club teams, now they just have to put it all together at the high school level.

“They’ve been very busy in the offseason and preseason,” Crestview coach Riley Mackall said. “Obviously Howland is a fantastic opponent, they’re going to do well this year. We’re just trying to get prepared for things, trying to get as many tough games as possible, because, quite frankly, none of this really matters until we hit the postseason.”

Their next matchup is set for Tuesday against Beaver Local.

For Howland, their next matchup is also on Tuesday against local rival Poland.

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