Onward and upward

Kaylee Howell, second from left, signs her National Letter of Intent to play basketball at the University of the Incarnate Word. Pictured are, from left, Jerry Howell, K. Howell, Jennifer Howell, and Sean Howell.

Rockport-Fulton High School Lady Pirate basketball player Kaylee Howell signed her National Letter of Intent to play basketball at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Howell said signing meant everything for her.

“Just knowing I have so much amazing support from all of my friends, the community, the coaches, and my family; having everybody out here watch me just sign a piece of paper, it means so much for me,” said Howell.

Howell will graduate RFHS as one of the most decorated Lady Pirate athletes in history. She has competed at a high level in volleyball, cross-country, basketball, and track and field.

She was a district champion in cross country as a freshman, a state finalist high jumper as a freshman, and has been a four-year starter for the Lady Pirate volleyball and basketball teams, in which she has received countless honors.

However, Howell’s love has always been basketball, and she’s excited to get the opportunity to play it at the NCAA Division I level.

“Playing at the next level, especially the Division I level, it’s an amazing opportunity that I really didn’t think I’d be able to achieve,” said Howell.

Surprisingly, playing basketball at the next level was something Howell didn’t really plan on until the start of her junior year. Up until that point, her plan was to graduate and be a normal college student.

“At the time it was just go be a college student at some university,” said Howell.

It wasn’t until her then new head basketball coach, Morgan Hale, “turned her life around.”

“Having her move here completely turned my life around,” said Howell. “She helped me realize I could achieve this level of basketball, and I’m really grateful I was able to do that and that she helped me.”

RFHS Head Girls Basketball Coach Morgan Hale has only been at RFHS for one year, the start of Howell’s junior year.

In the two years prior, the girls basketball team failed to qualify for the postseason. But in Hale’s first season, the 2020-21 season, RFHS won the district championship and advanced to the third round of the playoffs.

In a conversation Hale had with Howell last season, Hale asked Howell if she had any desire to play college basketball. Howell told her she wasn’t sure if she was good enough, to which Hale replied, “You’re absolutely good enough.”

Hale said from then on, Howell dedicated her time to pursuing that dream.

“The second she set her mind to it, they traveled all over the country, put in extra practices, traveling once a week to San Antonio just to get her practicing with a group of girls she was playing with,” said Hale. “She put her mind to it, and of course she excelled at it at a high level, and that’s what led to today.”

Hale spoke with multiple colleges at all different levels about Howell. Most of them wanted to know more about Howell’s character and work ethic; something Hale said she simply bragged to other coaches about.

“It’s an honor to be her coach. I tell her all the time I’m just blessed to be able to be her coach this past year and moving forward to this year,” said Hale.

Howell said UIW expressed interest in her after her junior season. From then on she played in multiple camps and tournaments all summer, until UIW offered her toward the end of summer 2021.

Among a variety of reasons, Howell said after going through a live practice with UIW during a camp, it all clicked for her.

“The way they play basketball, and the position they have in mind for me, was what I had always grown up playing,” said Howell. “The practice made me realize, ‘Oh, this is intense basketball, but it’s also very fun.’

“I didn’t realize it when I went on other visits, but it’s almost like you don’t know exactly when it happens. Then everything just clicks, and you see yourself going there.”

Howell will help lead the #19 ranked Lady Pirate basketball team on another deep run into the postseason.

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