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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Highlands Legend, Walz-Richey: "Relationships Over Awards"


By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The honors for her great playing career may continue to trickle in 17 years after the amazing career ended.

Jaime Walz-Richey just received induction into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. But above anything else, the 35-year-old wants to be known as “a very caring person.”

That’s why Walz-Richey said coaching is tough sometimes. Her older brother Jeff Walz said virtually the same thing weeks ago. Walz is the head coach of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team.

“I have to make basketball decisions that may affect (parents’) daughters’ playing time,” Walz-Richey said. “I wish everyone could play equally, but I can’t do that. As a coach, I have a job to do. As a person, that hurts me because I care about every one of those girls on and off the court. When you talk to them, they’ll tell you that.”

Her husband of nearly 10 years, Bert Richey, said her personal plaques and trophies like the 1996 Gatorade Player of the Year are stored away in their downstairs basement. But pictures with players current and past grace the refrigerator because the relationships are more important to her than her personal awards.

Richey even said the entire family is that unselfish. Walz-Richey said and her three older brothers along with her parents had dinner and took vacations as a family.

The family played a vital role in her basketball career. She still leads the state of Kentucky with 4,948 all-time career points.

“It’s been neat to watch her grow,”  Louisville Women's Coach, Jeff Walz said. “My brothers and I have been really proud of what she accomplished. She has a positive impact on a lot of players. I like how she handles herself on the sideline. I think she’s done a great job with the teams she’s had at Highlands.”

During her playing days, Walz-Richey helped Highlands to three 9th Region championships. The Bluebirds finished state runner-up to the now defunct M.C. Napier of Hazard her sophomore year in 1994. While she likes to win, Walz-Richey said not winning a state championship as a player does not drive her coaching-wise.

“I just want them to have the same experiences I did in high school,” Walz-Richey said. “This group of girls this year got a taste of it. They saw people at the regional tournament games from the community that hadn’t been to our games all year. When teams do well, the community of Fort Thomas comes out to support you.”

Jeff Walz coached his sister for a year at Western Kentucky University. He said things worked out well and she learned some things from him that year.

“It was the same thing,” Walz said. “We enjoyed the year we had together. It was no problem. You’re just coaching basketball at that point in time.”

Bert Richey has been an assistant at Highlands for a couple of years. He said he understands his role as an assistant and the couple does not bring the coaching job home while around their two daughters Jenna and Bailey.

“As the assistant coach, it’s my job to make suggestions just like all the other assistants,” Richey said. “She asks me what I think about certain situations and I tell her my opinion. Sometimes, she goes with it and sometimes, she goes with what she feels is best to make the kids successful.”

Six seniors graduated from this past year’s 26-8 squad that won the 36th District Championship and finished 9th Region runner-up to eventual state runner-up Notre Dame. Three are playing college sports next year. Leah Schaefer and Jesse “Dirt” Daley will play at Xavier University and Thomas More College respectively and Ava Abner will play soccer at Arkansas State University. Ava Abner said her bond with Walz-Richey developed over a period of time.

“She actually has been coaching me for seven years,” Abner said. “She’s like my mom. I even call her Mom. She taught me a lot about my ability, myself and how to step up to the plate when my team needs it. When it comes to life, I’ll be able to use it on the job.”

One of her former players in Angela Healy played at nearby Northern Kentucky University. Healy now teaches sixth grade and was just named head coach at Greeley Central just north of Denver, Colorado. Walz-Richey was one of the first people to know that.

“(Walz-Richey) taught me that hard work and dedication will breed success,” Healy said. “She was an example of it throughout her entire playing career when I watched her play in high school and in college. She showed me that same work ethic and commitment as a coach. She also allowed players to develop as leaders on the court with play calling and decision making. As a coach myself now, I hope to grow my players into that role, too.”

The relationships with the current players developed because Walz-Richey has been head coach for 11 years. The Bluebirds are 201-125 during that time with three district championships.

“It’s nice for the school and community to have a consistent coach,” Walz-Richey said. “The elementary and middle schoolers see me at their practices and some of their games. When they get to high school, they know me already.”

That’s been the case for returning players like rising sophomore Brianna Adler. Adler’s older sisters Mallory and Alex also played for Highlands during Walz-Richey’s tenure.

“I think if you want to be good, you have to put the time and effort into it every day,” Adler said. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is to play with your heart. That’s something I think our team struggles with every year. We may not be into the game as much as we should be.”

Adler and Haley Coffey will be the returning starters this season. Other returning players looking to take bigger roles include Tomi Blanton, Whitney Quillen, Lydia Graves, Alex Combs and McKenzie Leigh.

“We all have to get physically stronger,” Walz-Richey said. “We have a great group of girls coming back. Everyone will have to step up and do more. I think we have the ability to do that as long as we work hard in the offseason and get better. A lot of them are playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) so they’re back at it getting better.”

Walz-Richey said the staff is already gearing toward the next steps with the program. During the summer, Highlands often partakes in team camps and summer basketball. That has included trips to Louisville in the past.

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