Alexandria’s Kathy Walker spreads credit to many after earning statewide coach of the year honor
The second-place finish at the Class A state meet was the best season in Hall of Fame coach Kathy Walker's career, and it earned her the Class A Coach of the Year Award that was recently handed out by the state coaches' association in swimming and diving.
Alexandria swimming and diving coach Kathy Walker is already a member of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame.
Walker has consistently produced winning teams during her 42 years of coaching, but this past Alexandria boys season where the Cardinals finished as the Class A runner-up at the state meet was the best finish in her coaching career.
It’s a finish that helped Walker earn the Class A Minnesota Coach of the Year Award for boys swimming and diving. Voting was conducted by the coaches’ association members, with the results announced at the virtual All State Swimming and Diving Banquet on April 22.
Walker said it was an honor just to get nominated for a statewide award like this, and that earning this recognition comes with the help of a lot of people.
“Our team this year, or any of my years in Alexandria, would not have had its success without Steve Kluver and Aaron Rooney,” Walker said. “One of the most integral parts of our success this year was in diving. Aaron has been voted section diving coach of the year for both girls’ and boys' seasons this past year. Having a strong diving program makes a brilliant difference for our team. Steve is a thoughtful balance to my stress.”
Walker wants every coach in her program to have a strong voice.
“When we are putting together a lineup for a meet, we talk it over and formulate the best possible outcome for each team we have coached,” Walker said. “We strategize as a coaching team. Sometimes, it means difficult decisions with who to put on or leave off a relay, even the order of kids on a relay. I rarely make a decision without consulting the other coaches.”
Walker was especially proud to have 10 members of the Cardinals’ 21 athletes qualify for the 2021 state meet. Every one of those athletes scored at state.
It was a season that included broken pool and school records, multiple all-state athletes, and a loss to just one team -- Sartell. The Sabres beat Alexandria in a dual meet and then edged the Cardinals at sections. Alexandria went on to return the favor against a program they have a lot of respect for by beating third-place Sartell at the state meet.
“The athletes I have had the privilege to work with are vital to our program,” Walker said. “The boys in Alexandria have set a standard of hard work and have the medals to show for it. They train at an elite level and race to an even higher one.”
Walker praised the parents of her Alexandria athletes, as well.
“They have been spectacular in their support, especially this year with all of the covid restrictions,” she said. “They stepped up to continue to support the team culture that we have fostered from the very beginning. The booster club also made each and every one of our team feel valued.”
Walker lauded the leadership of AAHS activities director Ben Kvidt, and the work of the Cardinals’ strength program led by Meghan Orgeman and Mike Empting in helping to get these athletes ready to perform at a high level.
“In any school I have been coaching in -- Melrose, College of Saint Benedict, The American School in Muscat: the Sultanate of Oman -- success comes with the work of everyone, not just one person,” Walker said. “I make sure to surround myself with coaches I can constantly learn from. Nathan Meyer from Melrose, who swam in high school for me, and James Schreiner from Sauk Centre, and Jason Anderson from Sartell and Carl Shuldes from Willmar, and all of the collegiate coaches I have been blessed with learning from had a hand in this award.”
Swim and dive teams did not even get into the water this past season until Jan. 4 due to the pandemic delaying the winter season. What Walker saw from her athletes was an eagerness to do dry-land training through virtual workouts.
“I think that the idea that any practice could be their last, or any meet could be their last, or the uncertainty of whether we would have a state meet made our team work even harder,” she said. “When they got feedback on a practice or a race or dives, they had to immediately make improvements, because they knew they had limited opportunities this season. We put our athletes into spots where they could shine. The boys did the rest.”
In more than four decades, Walker has seen almost everything there is to see in coaching. Life is different for coaches at almost every level now, but rewards like Walker experienced this past season are often worth the ups and downs that lifetime coaches work through.
“There were certainly days that I walked out of practice or a meet and put my forehead on the steering wheel to clear my head before driving home,” Walker said. “But there were more days that I put my forehead on the steering wheel and thanked the Lord for a great practice or meet.
“The years now of everything getting posted on social media or people feeling it is okay to anonymously criticize on Twitter or Instagram makes any coach wonder whether they want to continue down this road. Social media has taken a toll on our athletes and our coaches. But, at the end of the day, when the lightbulb goes on in an athlete, or a change is made or the gleam of determination is seen where it has not been before, that is what makes any coach write another training session or another meet plan or another dryland workout.”