By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Joe Knight's pre-meet speeches are the stuff of legend, at least to the veteran members of Sherando High School's girls swim team.
Knight admits his nerves get the best of him before big meets, and it happened again before the Warriors took on a largely unknown James Wood squad as part of the annual City-County meet.
"The girls said, 'Relax coach, it'll be fine. We got this,'" Knight said. "And they did."
The Warriors did their best to relax Knight all season long, turning back all rivals to go unbeaten during the regular season and then notching yet another Northwestern District championship -- their fourth straight.
It was a dazzling season for Sherando, which went on from there to perform well in the Conference 21 meet, a springboard to a solid showing at the 4A North Region meet, and ultimately a ninth-place finish in the Class 4A state championship meet.
For his leadership, Knight is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013-2014 Girls Swim Coach of the Year. It's the fifth straight honor for Knight, who's won the award every year since its inception.
"He's always about the depth of the team," Sherando senior Kelsey Dingman said. "He's always about the third, fourth, fifth and sixth places, where you get more points."
Knight entered the season wondering where many of those points might come from this year. Graduation losses were heavy, with Sherando needing to replace team captains Christina Lee and Taylor Waterman, plus other solid swimmers like Amber Lapsley and Casey Johnson.
"Going into the season we really didn't know what to expect from our girls team," Knight said. "Of course, we still had a solid core of swimmers returning in Kelsey [Dingman] and Brianna English, Brenna Sharp and Laura Ferguson. But we also had one of our better swimmers, Genesis Utz, was injured and nursing a shoulder injury. We were without her services for more than half the year."
The Warriors prevailed, time and again, thanks to their superior depth and Knight's ability to find just the right spots to maximize that strength.
Of course, it helps to have talent at the top. Sherando had plenty of that, headed by Dingman. She wrapped up her stellar high school career with two fourth-place state finishes and swam legs on two Warriors relays that also placed at states. Dingman, who plans to swim collegiately next year, credits Knight with much of her success.
"Joe's the one who pretty much taught me how to swim," Dingman said. "I started my swimming career with him. It's going to be weird, him not coaching me any more. He has helped me get where I am today."
Ferguson, a junior, added an 11th-place finish at states and combined with Dingman, Sharp and English for those two strong relay performances.
"I was very satisfied with that," Knight said. "It was just a satisfying weekend all the way around for our girls to finish that way, as strong as they did."
The season is over, and now Knight must contemplate how best to replace graduating standouts like Dingman and Sharp, two of five seniors on Sherando's team this year. More than likely, he'll find the right combinations in the pool to keep the Warriors above water. After all, he's been doing it for years now.
"All the success over the years has just been the depth of our teams," Knight said. "Naturally we have Kelsey who can bring down first places for us, but it's always been the kids who can swim third, fourth, fifth and really pick up those points that have really helped us out."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>