What could she do for an encore?
Richards started by repeating all of the accomplishments of her rookie coaching season, then added to the accolades by being named the Class AAAAAAA coach of the year by the Georgia High School Association.
Not only did the Etowah girls place in the top 10 at this year’s state meet, they had two state champions on its roster. For leading the Lady Eagles through another outstanding season, Richards is the 2013-14 Cherokee Tribune Girls Swimming Coach of the Year.
“We had two state champions. We had two girls relays make it to the state finals, which was fantastic. We had girls get in the top eight or score times that were so much faster than they were going into the meet,” said Richards, who earned the county coaching honor for the second straight season. “We can’t ask for a much better season from these girls.”
Richards’ association with the Etowah swimming program began when Tracye Bulger was the coach and Richards — then just a parent of a swimmer — signed on as an assistant. When Bulger moved on, Richards stepped up, even though her own daughters left the program long ago.
This year, Richards began teaching at Etowah, and she was able to connect with the swimmers in a new way.
“I’m able to reach out to more kids to get them on the team,” Richards said. “Hopefully, we can continue to grow and continue to roll with this.”
Richards knows next season will be a challenge, after she loses a trio of college-bound swimmers in Taylor Weiss (Arkansas), Megan Young (Georgia Tech) and Lauren Oglesby (Gardner-Webb), but she’s confident that the strong freshmen from this season will continue to develop.
State-champion diver Madison DuVall will also return, as will a county champion in Katie Taylor.
“We have some coaches out in the community coaching summer league and, hopefully, they can send us some talent,” Richards said. “We have some kids that I think will be peaking sometime soon. Not that they are going to be able to replace (the seniors), but they can fill in some gaps.”
In each of the last two county championships, Etowah went into the competition seemingly as an underdog. But once they got into the pool, the Lady Eagles repeatedly improved upon their times.
This year, their strength was thought to be the freestyle, but they ended up finishing first and second in the 100-yard backstroke, which gave the Lady Eagles enough points to claim the title.
“These kids pull it out in the pool,” Richards said. “They jell well as a team. They have known each other for so long. They all fit well together. There is never a division between club swimmers and non-club swimmers.”
Richards does most of her coaching in putting together relays. She said it’s about balancing the limits imposed by the meets that determine how many events a swimmer can compete in, and what each swimmer is strongest in.
Richards said that can mean having a swimmer compete in a relay leg that isn’t necessarily her specialty, or something she likes, if she is better in that position than any other swimmer would be.
“It’s about the combination,” Richards said. “It’s a whole big puzzle that you have to put together. That’s what makes swimming hard. You have individual events, relays and team scores. You have to balance it all out.”
As for being named the Class AAAAAA’s top coach, Richards said that was a particularly pleasing honor to receive. Typically, it goes to the team that wins the state title, but by winning the award after her team finished seventh in the state, it shows that the other coaches in the state respect Richards and her improving program.
“I was really surprised,” she said. “I think they have seen the consistency of our program of the years and the fact that, when we go to state, we don’t have all club swimmers. I think that it was a culmination of a lot of things. I think that adding diving has helped, too.”