Swimming Coach of the Year: Handley’s Tag Grove
Handley’s Tag Grove — The Winchester Star Swimming Coach of the Year for the third time in six seasons — led the Judges boys’ team to the Northwestern District meet title for the first time since 2006, as well as the district regular season title with a 3-0 record. He also led the Handley girls to second in the district meet and a 2-1 district regular season for second place.
Q. Expectations coming into the season?
Grove: We finished up, especially district-wise, where I thought we would be. I really felt like the boys could go undefeated in the district. Everybody else had lost some people. We knew Millbrook would be our toughest competition, and we told the kids right off the bat that we’ve got to get through these other meets, then [Millbrook will] be there toward the end of the season [in a dual on Jan. 11]. On paper we matched up pretty well with them, but I didn’t know how it would go until the meet. We were ready for them. We didn’t have the depth we had in 2008 and 2009 [Handley took fifth and eighth, respectively, in the state those two years], but we had a fair amount of seniors on the guys’ side, and we really counted on them and they swam well. And younger kids like [sophomore] Alex [Day] and [freshman] Carter [Watts] had good years.
Girls, I kind of knew that was where it would be. It was between us and Sherando, and when we got to our dual meet, we just couldn’t figure out a way to beat them. Still, it was a good year and something to build on.
Q. What stands out about this season?
Grove: [The district meet], Liz [Grove, Tag’s daughter] not being able to swim the whole meet. (Liz Grove had breathing difficulties and a high heart rate after winning the 200-meter individual medley.) We had to find someone to take her place for the 400 relay, but I was putting that decision off, thinking that her heart rate would come down. There were a number of doctors here watching their own kids swim, and they said she couldn’t go.
I looked at the list of kids that could swim, and the best that we had was Allegra Zamore. She came into the meet with 1:24 in the 100 free, and she finished second-to-last with a 1:21. She was sitting with the other three girls and I said to her, ‘You’ve got to swim.’ She said, ‘I’m the next-to-slowest one in the whole meet.’ And I said, ‘Not anymore. You’ve got to go.’ I put her first and changed the order a little bit. All of them [Haley Morefield, Eileen Wilkerson, Aleksa Putname] swam really well, but Allegra went from a 1:24, then a 1:21 individually at the meet, then led off with a 1:17. That was two extremes — you lose your best swimmer, and you need someone to step up, and then all four of them do it, because they really had to. We finished second to qualify for regionals.
Q. Any particular meet that you thought was significantly important?
Grove: We went down to Virginia Tech for a meet in December, and both teams were top five in the standings. The kids last year wanted to see if we could take some more trips for big meets, and [Handley Director of Student Activities] Rick [Lilly] was able to get us into that as a last-minute addition to our schedule. That was big in terms of being together as a team and developing, and we did well as a team.
Q. Most memorable moment?
Grove: We didn’t really come together as a team until the district meet. We always swam together pretty well, and you could always point to ‘this person had a good meet, that person had a good meet.’ We were always kind of rolling along, doing our thing.
But we pushed them harder in the weight room this year, and I think that really paid off at the end of the season. Even though we knew that the guys should win it if everything went according to plan, and the girls would be second, it was still big to see so many people perform the way they’re capable of.
Q. Most difficult moment?
Grove: It was difficult seeing Liz struggle with her health at districts, but that mostly concerned me as a parent. If you’re looking at something as difficult as a coach, we really didn’t have it. It was a great group of kids to work with. We’re going to miss the seniors that are leaving us, because they’ve played such a big part on what we do, and most of them swam all four years. And they’re obviously a very talented group of kids and we’re going to miss what they bring to the table.
Q. What do you see going forward for next year based on who’s returning?
Grove: I think we’ve got some kids, because of our seniors, who are pretty excited about the years to come and the new challenges we face going into that different conference. (Handley will not be with the Frederick County schools in conference competition.) We’ll see where it goes. We need to do some recruiting and get more people out, and we’re going to lift over the summer, which we haven’t done before.
— Compiled by Robert Niedzwiecki