Our Season Preview Tour led us to Califorinia’s Coach Justin Howell. He was great to take the time to speak with us and share some information about his team. Good luck Cal!
GNN-Taking over last year after Danna left, you had one of the best years in California for a while, you earned PAC 12 coach of the year. How do you evaluate last year’s season?
Justin-Last years season was a culmination of all the work that we had put in for two years. Danna and I started to lay some cultural foundations, and Liz and myself continued to build from there last year. We were so pleased that our seven seniors could finish their careers filled with pride and have no regrets.
GNN-Danna went on and on about you and the foundation you guys had, she told me that you would take California to places it has never been, comment?
Justin-Well, that’s nice of Danna! I learned a lot from her in one short season, and I am grateful for the opportunities that we shared together. I have been in the Bay Area since 1986, and coaching since 1997. I always knew that Cal was a special place and I have sent many club athletes here over the years. Cal is the #1 public university in the world, and it has been my goal since day one for the gymnastics reputation to mirror the academic reputation. That meant that culturally things needed to change in the gym. That’s a long process that doesn’t happen over night, but we are getting there. I am truly blessed that my assistant coach is also my wife, Elisabeth Crandall. She is a driving force behind our successes and where we are headed.
GNN-You also have the same kind of roster as Danna this year with a lot of freshman and very few seniors, will this year be a big test for your team?
Justin-Yes it will, but I have a lot of confidence in this team and my staff of Liz and Jessa. We are lucky to have some great leadership returning this season with Alicia Asturias, Dallas Crawford, and Leilani Alferos. These three athletes have been through a lot and have an incredible amount of passion for our sport and for Cal. We have eight freshmen. On one hand this means a ton of new energy, and on the other hand these eight young ladies are going through a lot of adjustments for the first time in their lives. Being away from home, navigating the academic rigors of Berkeley, and learning to compete in a team environment. From what I have seen thus far, these freshmen are finding their way quite nicely and they are stepping up to every challenge that we put in front of them.
GNN- Any freshman that you are excited about seeing in competition atmosphere?
Justin-Honestly, I am excited for all of them. I see a large freshmen contingency making line ups in multiple events. Jessica Howe, Charlie Owens, and Desiree Palomares, have been showing a great deal of potential as All-Arounders. Emily Richardson (WOGA) will be joining us when we return in late December, and I expect her to challenge our line ups as well. Others are nursing some minor injuries, but have been really strong to this point.
GNN-You were one of the most respected club coaches on the west coast with more than a decade at Airborne. Was it a hard transition for you at first?
Justin-Coaching is coaching, so from that perspective it was not too challenging. The difference now is that my role is much bigger than just coaching gymnastics skills. It is to help these young ladies achieve personal excellence in all areas of their lives. The majority of our work is done outside of the gym, but that’s the most important work. If we do a good job holding these girls accountable and pushing them past their perceived limits in their personal lives, the gymnastics success will come. We believe whole-heartedly in that!
GNN-What are California’s recruiting philosophies?
Justin-We recruit the whole person. Team chemistry is so important, and we are looking for passionate people that inspire those around them. Gymnastics skill and talent are important, but it’s not everything.
GNN-Your schedule like all coaches this year is brutal, and you will be tested out of the gate. Your home opener Vs. Utah this year helps. Is this years schedule harder than last year with the young team you have?
Justin-Every year in the PAC-12 is hard! We have amazing teams, athletes, and coaches in this conference. We see it as a blessing that we have the ability to push our team every weekend in our own conference. But yes…this year is tough, and our home schedule is amazing finishing up by hosting the PAC-12 Championships!
GNN-You have to be excited about Alicia Asturias, she is an all around gymnast and had a great year including PAC 12 first team honors! It looks like your few juniors and seniors are at least great caliber gymnasts, do they help the freshman mesh with the team?
Justin-Alicia is an amazing person with so many talents beyond gymnastics. She is an inspiration to many. We have three captains this year with Madison Kratzke (Junior), Dallas Crawford (Senior), and Alicia Asturias (Senior). They all three bring different qualities to the table, and we draw upon those daily. Our returners have welcomed our freshmen from day one. They are inspired by the passion and the quality of gymnastics that they bring, so our team unity came together quite early. Honestly, we just have a great group of girls that have each other’s back. That’s what it’s all about…we are a family.
GNN- What are the team goals this year?
Justin-Our short-term goal everyday is to get “one day better.” One day better in some aspect of our lives. We focus on the things that we can control, which are attitude, behavior, and effort. Of course, we like to win and we want to continue to make Regionals and push to get into the top 12. We can’t control the scores or the rankings, so we choose not to put our focus in those areas. This team is strong and determined and I am confident that our gymnastics successes will continue to build.
GNN- What can we do at GNN to help you and others promote the sport better?
Justin-Continue to promote ALL of the programs that we have in the NCAA. Men’s, Women’s, Division I, II, III, and collegiate club programs. We all need help spreading the word about our amazing sport and the positive impact that gymnastics makes in the world, and within the walls of our universities.
GNN- What do you think about the website?
Justin-From what I have seen so far, I like GNN site. One thing that I love as a coach, is coaching and technical content. Maybe that can be an addition in the future!
GNN- What are the Howells like outside the gym?
The Howell’s are busy right now! We just had a baby boy, Greyson Berrett Howell, born on October 24th. And we have two other boys, Jacob (11) and Noah (8), and an 80lb dog named Disco. So I guess you could say we are a fun and energetic family that is always on the move! I am fortunate that I get to coach with my wife and best friend everyday in the gym, and that we get to share our passion together.
Thank You Justin for the time, look forward to talking to you again, Merry Christmas to your family!