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Sonoma County soccer phenom Crystal Howard has played or coached at every level of women’s soccer in Northern California.

So after 12 years of coaching, it was a no-brainer when Howard was named the head coach of the women’s soccer team at Santa Rosa Junior College last spring.

“This has been an opportunity that has been amazing for me,” Howard said about reaching her goal of becoming a head coach. “It all came together — a little fast — but this was something that I was so ready to jump into.”

The ability to coach at a school in her hometown after such a successful career as a player and coach was the cherry on top, she added.

Howard’s soccer career began early, and after a standout four years at Montgomery High School — eventually earning the title of North Coast Section Player of the Year her senior year — she played four years at Sonoma State University, where she made her mark as one of the best playmakers in the program and still holds the career assist record for the Seawolves with 30.

Shortly after her successful stint as a player at SSU, Howard graduated in 2005 and spent two years coaching at El Molino High School before accepting a job as an assistant coach for the Bear Cubs under head coach Karen Stanley.

“She was a very successful player and our players respected her for that,” said Stanley, “but her dedication and focus was an instant advantage for our program.”

During the three years that Howard was assisting on the coaching staff, the Bear Cubs were runners-up for a state title. In 2013, Howard accepted an assistant coaching job for the women’s soccer team at SSU.

“When you’re a young woman coach and you’re very demanding, people can take it different ways,” SSU head coach Emiria Salzmann said. “With Crystal, she has this unapologetic way of demanding respect. She’s stuck to her gut and that makes her unique.”

Now Howard faces a new challenge as a head coach — but with the undefeated Bear Cubs sporting a 12-0-2 record and seven games left in the regular season, she has already exploded past expectations.

“We started small when we set our preseason goals,” she explained, “and going undefeated has just been the icing on the cake for us.”

Scoring first in every match, winning a majority of their home games, and winning the conference title are the goals the Bear Cubs had set early in the season, Howard said.

But don’t expect her to take any credit for the season’s results so far, because the coach gives all credit to her players.

“They are the ones who go out and play the games,” Howard said of her players. “I got really lucky that all these girls are on the same page.”

It wasn’t that Howard showed up in the spring to establish a relationship with returning players — or her vast knowledge of the sport — that has earned her respect from players and co-workers in the athletic department, Stanley said.

It’s the way she can remain calm in the face of adversity that is most admirable, her former boss said.

“She can be very demanding,” added SSU’s Salzmann, “but she also knows how to just have fun with it.”

And according to Howard, it wasn’t her resume of records, games, wins or accolades that has made her first season as a head coach so successful.

A winning record is fun, she said, but creating a foundation for women’s soccer at SRJC is the end goal.

“I’ve had some great mentors,” she said, “some really strong female influences in my life. I hope I can do that for these girls and help them prepare for what’s next for them after college.”

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