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Friday, December 1, 2017

Current, Former Players Reflect on Walz-Richey's Career 300th Win

Highlands Girls Hoops Program Built on Positive Culture

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands girls basketball players celebrated Jaime Walz-Richey's 300th win as head coach Thursday with a cake and balloons.
When her college career ended at Western Kentucky University back in 2000, Jaime Walz-Richey said basketball would always be a part of her life.

Two years later, Richey took over as head coach of the Highlands Bluebird girls basketball program that she became the face of during her playing days in the mid-90s. Now two games into her 16th season in that position and currently the longest-tenured head coach at Highlands, Richey hit another huge coaching milestone with her 300th victory Thursday with a 55-39 win over the host St. Henry Lady Crusaders.

Richey and her assistants have built a program that has high, but good expectations. Richey continually credits the players for making the atmosphere positive on a yearly basis.

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"It started with my first team. It was kind of a new system, but they believed in it," Richey said. "Every team from there, they always know I'm going to demand hard work. I'm going to push them to their limits and I'm going to make them not only make them better people on the court, but better people off the court and that's one of the things I take pride in. I think everyone that's ever played for me will say that if they ever needed anything, they could call me anytime and I would help them in any way I could. I'm lucky to be here at Highlands being the coach and having girls that come out, and parents that trust me and believe me. We're going to continue doing what we're doing and try to get a (9th) Region title."

Richey's record is 300-157 overall with six 36th District championships and one appearance in the 9th Region title game. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association does not recognize coaching victories on its all-time wins list until one hits 375 victories. A total of 33 individuals made that list entering the season with current Perry County Central Head Coach Randy Napier leading the way with an all-time record of 861-262.

Former Boone County Head Coach Nell Fookes leads Northern Kentucky and is fourth all-time with a record of 686-255 in 30 years. Fookes retired after the 2014-15 season.

"She 100 percent deserves to reach her 300th win as the head coach," said Maggie McMahon-Clements, a 2009 Highlands alum and current Office Manager and Systems Evolution in Cincinnati. "It's great to see a former coach, but more importantly, a friend reach a milestone like this."

The current players grew up looking forward to playing for Richey and staff. This year's team has one senior in guard Brooke Dill.

"I remember coming to games when I was younger and seeing the older girls playing wishing I can do that. I couldn't wait to be that," Dill said. "I'd always talk to J-Rich after games and she'd be like, 'Are you going to come play for me when you're older?' I'd be like, 'Absolutely!' I was so excited. It's so amazing to be able to play under her. I'm glad that she's stayed around and is going to be here for a long time."

Former players said they've taken valuable lessons from Richey and staff into their work lives. Jesse Daley, a 2013 Highlands graduate, helped Highlands to the 9th Region championship game her senior year. Daley is currently in law school.

"I think Jaime and Bert taught me that everything you want in life is worth putting in the extra work for. It's not about you," Daley said. "It's about the team. I think that'll help me in law because it's not about me as an attorney. It's about my client."

Bekah Towles, a 2010 Highlands graduate, currently teaches at Arlington Elementary in Lexington. She attended college at the University of Kentucky.

"I think playing high school basketball in general prepares you for a lot of what's going to happen in real life," Towles said. "I think a lot of people who don't play high school sports aren't as prepared as a lot of their friends who played high school sports. It's about being disciplined, having a schedule every day and going to practice, going home studying then doing your homework. In college, I had to adopt sort of the same mindset. I do well there too. It's the work ethic she put into all of us that I took onto college."

Alex Adler was one of two seniors along with Victoria Poindexter on the 2008 district championship team. Adler currently teaches 12th Grade Math at Newport High and has a daughter named Peyton.

"I feel like I learned more from Jaime than I may think about, especially now that I teach also," Adler said. "Now that I have seniors. They all talk about going to college and life after graduation. Jaime was very strict on us in all aspects. She had that motherly instinct. She had that coaching instinct. She expected a lot of us, not only as players, but as students and people. I feel that carries over into my attitude as I am a mom and a teacher. I expect out of Peyton even though she's only three years old. I still expect her to respect everybody else. I expect her to say Please and Thank you. I expect my students to give me the same respect I give them. There were times she'd get irritated with us. But you didn't realize at that time she was only looking out for you in more ways than one."

While many players come up through Highlands Middle School, some come from other middle school programs. Natalie Horner-Young, a 2009 Highlands graduate and current Sales Consultant at Carmax, was the only player from her class to come from grade school at St. Joe in Cold Spring to play basketball at Highlands.

"At the time, I was very successful at basketball at St. Joe and I wanted to go play for Jaime," Young said. "When I went there as a freshman, I kind of ended up making varsity-only, which was awesome. That was kind of a dream come true for me. But when I got there, I realized I wasn't as good as I thought. She pushed me to continue to develop because there were girls that were coming in that were just as good as me and even better. I felt like a small-town girl going to the big city. It wasn't like that. She didn't sugarcoat things for me. She told me how it was all the time. I always had to earn everything I got with her."

Last year, senior Macy Gabbard suffered a season-ending injury in the season-opener at Louisville Sacred Heart. But Gabbard still had a place on the bench the entire season. The same went for Shayna Crawley-Nevermann during her senior year in 2006-07. Nevermann is currently a Public Relations Strategist at Strategic Advisers in Covington.

"Jaime is not just a coach. She kind of becomes your friend. She was also my teacher my senior year. So between classes, basketball practices and games, I was with her a lot," Nevermann said. "I just really trusted her and felt that I could go to her for anything. When I hurt my knee, she was really supportive. That was a really hard time. She made sure I still felt a part of the team. She even moved me up to sit by the coaches. She knew how bad I wanted to be out there and not near the end of the bench hearing the girls complaining about not getting enough playing time. She was really there for me during the surgery. It would have been a really sad and hard time for me if she didn't kind of like step up and make sure that I was a captain and still a part of the team."

Jenna Martin played for Highlands one year as a senior last year. She currently starts at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro. Highlands snapped Covington Holmes' 30-game winning streak against local teams with a 62-49 win in Fort Thomas that year. Holmes eventually won the 9th Region Tournament for the second straight year before losing in the state semifinals to Franklin County, 51-36.

"We had a super successful year even though we lost in the first round of region," Martin said. "It says something that so many people have scored 1,000-plus points under her. I think she really cares a lot if the girls call her mom because she just doesn't care about how the girls play basketball. She cares so much about our outside lives. Whenever something happens, it's like, 'Don't tell J-Rich.' But it's like she's going to find out anyways because she's just so involved with everything her players do. I was really, really lucky to have her as my coach, especially my senior year."

The culture has younger players excited to keep it going. Freshman guard Emma Mallery said the older players have been great examples for them. She came from St. Therese in Southgate.

"In practice, they help you if you mess up," Mallery said. "They just support you when you're playing in the game."

Highlands plays host to Dayton on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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