“It was a lot more on the administrative side than I realized,” she said. “It was a lot to put together all the meets, and putting the pieces together was a bigger job than I expected.”
Also unexpected was the level of success the Lady Eagles achieved after graduating a strong senior class in 2012. Richards attributed much of the success to the talent and dedication of some of her younger swimmers.
The Lady Eagles placed seventh at the Class AAAAAA state championships — the best finish of any program in the county.
For her work this season, Richards is the 2012-13 Cherokee Tribune Girls Swimming Coach of the Year.
Richards said part of what helped her overcome the paperwork and get a successful team in the pool was her familiarity with many of the athletes.
“I knew a lot of the swimmers already because I had been an assistant for so long,” said Richards, who succeeded former Etowah coach Tracye Bulger. “I also live in the neighborhood, and I teach in the neighborhood that, even if I didn’t know them from swim team, I had met a lot of the kids coming up. Familiarity is a very good thing.”
Richards also benefitted from a large roster of talented swimmers, including Hannah Martin, Taylor Weiss, Katie Taylor, Ira Vogt, Lauren Oglesby, Finley Billings and Megan Young. Richards said that depending on the needs for a specific meet, she would make adjustments to benefit the team.
For example, she split talent in the relays at the county meet — where each school could enter multiple relay teams — but put the best bodies in the water at the state meet, where only one team could compete per event.
“Depending on what meet we were going into, and what we needed to do, there were different strategies,” she said. “With the events, I moved them around. I think Taylor Weiss swam her event (butterfly) in the relay the whole time, but I have kids swimming all kinds of events throughout the year to figure out where they will be positioned best at the end.
“I talk to them about not necessary being in their best event, but doing what is best for the team and figuring where we can score the most points.”
If figuring out who goes where in the pool wasn’t enough, Richards also contended with outside forces. When swim meets were held Saturdays, she would have swimmers taking the SATs or competing in meets with their club programs.
“There are all kinds of factors that go into making out events,” Richards said, “but it came together.”
Her proudest moment of the season came at the county meet. The Etowah girls defended their championship and won for the seventh straight year. Even more, they were all able achieve personal milestones by lowering their state-qualifying times or posting season-best times.
Richards said winning the meet wasn’t about her top swimmers performing up to expectations, but the reserves going above and beyond expectations.
“We knew that every point was going to count, and it wasn’t just the people who would win the event,” she said. “It was the sixth, seventh, eighth people where we win these meets. They kept coming up to me and asking, ‘Are we going to do it?’ They were just so excited and in this frenzy. It was so wonderful at the end to see it pay off.”
The Etowah swimmers celebrated their county championship by pushing Richards into the pool.
“It was a nice celebration to be a part of,” she said.
Etowah’s roster isn’t dominated by year-round swimmers, with Richards estimating that there are fewer than 10 on the team. Many are two-sport athletes and compete in a fall sport like cross country or a spring sport like tennis, soccer, lacrosse or track and field.
“Basketball is pretty much the only sport we didn’t have someone competing in because the seasons take place at the same time,” Richards said. “We have kids from all different kinds of sports, but they all come together in the pool.”