By Jeff Nations
To hear Sherando junior swimmer Kelsey Dingman tell it, Warriors coach Joe Knight is something of a master strategist when it comes to plotting out his lineup for meets.
"When it comes to swimming, he's really good at placing us so we have a better chance at winning," Dingman said. "He's always good at that. He has a strategy for everything he does, and it always works."
Knight downplays his point-maximizing acumen, instead seeing his work in placing swimmers as a chance to let them shine.
"I don't think I'm all that different from any other coach, quite honestly," Knight said. "I just stress that each event kids swim is an opportunity to set their personal-best times."
However you describe it -- strategy or creating opportunity -- Knight once again pushed all the right buttons for Sherando. For the fourth straight year, Knight is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2012-2013 Girls Swim Coach of the Year. No other coach has won the honor since its inception.
"We've been pretty fortunate," Knight said. "We've just had tremendous success the last four years. "
This season, Knight guided Sherando's girls to their fourth straight Northwestern District championship. The Warriors followed up with a solid ninth-place finish at the Region II meet before wrapping up the season with by tying for 26th in the Group AA/A state meet with only four girls swimmers in the meet.
Knight thought Sherando had a chance to be strong again this season, with Dingman -- the reigning Northern Virginia Daily swimmer of the year -- back along with a core of experienced swimmers.
"At the beginning of the season I was kind of cautiously optimistic," Knight said. "I knew we had a really strong team returning, and by that I mean a deep roster. Then with the influx of freshmen, I was really pleased with the number of girls who made an impact for us."
Getting the most out of that potential and maximizing that talent was Knight's job, and keeping his swimmers motivated was a big part of it. One of Knight's best tools for that is a banner-sized chart. On it, Knight had his swimmers list their personal and team goals for the season. At opportune times throughout the season, Knight would break that chart out for his team to let them see how they were progressing. Many of those goals, some seemingly far-fetched at the time, were met.
Now in his eighth season as Sherando's head coach, Knight has been associated with the program for 10 years. He served two seasons as an assistant under former head coach Mary Longerbeam before taking the job when she left. A former collegiate swimmer at Lock Haven University, Knight has been busy building Sherando's program ever since.
"It all starts with our summer program, the Shenandoah Valley Swim League," Knight said. "We get exposed to the kids and they get exposed to us at a very early age."
Sherando often has the area's largest turnout for swimming, and this season was no exception.
"This year more than any other year, we had an excellent turnout for our preseason conditioning program," Knight said. "On any given day, we had as many as 60 kids working with us."
Knight had to shave that roster down a bit, settling on 28 girls and 15 boys for the season. He'll likely have some tough decisions to make next year as well, with only five swimmers graduating off this season's squad -- girls swimmers Christina Lee, Amber Lapsley, Taylor Waterman and Casey Johnson, and boys swimmer Jason Lee.
"Unfortunately, the kids we're graduating off the team are kids you hate to lose," Knight said. "They've been with our program all four years."
If history is an indicator, Knight will most likely find a way to make up for that loss.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>