The new face leading the Stillwater synchronized swimming program is a familiar one as Kathy Henderson has been named head coach for the Ponies.
Henderson, who graduated from Stillwater in 1991, replaces previous head coach Judy Luzaich, whose contract was not renewed in June after 39 seasons at the helm.
Henderson is eager to continue the program’s rich history of success, which she contributed to during a four-year varsity career that included state championships in 1988 and 1991 and runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1990.
“Stillwater has a very strong legacy in synchronized swimming and I want to make sure it continues,” said Henderson, who is a business teacher at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park. “I want to make sure we continue to see success in the program.”
Henderson served as an assistant coach at Stillwater from 1993 to 2011 — in addition to seven years coaching the University of Minnesota synchronized swimming club team — and has spent 20 years coaching the 12-and-under age group with the Stillwater Synchro Swim Club.
“She has been a long-time assistant and she knows that system,” Stillwater activities director Ricky Michel said. “She knows the system and she knows and respects and appreciates the history that Judy established during her career and she’s going to build on that. She really has a pulse on all of the things that need to be done and she’s well respected in the synchronized swimming community.”
She takes over a program that has not lost a dual meet since the 1989 season — a winning streak that numbers at least 166 in a row — and features a 281-13-2 record since 1974. The Ponies have collected 18 state championships and placed second 21 times in the 39-year history of the state meet, including this past spring when they finished with a 6-0 record. Stillwater’s last state title came in 2003.
“I would love to get back on top of that podium,” Henderson said. “Right now, I’d like to grow our numbers a little bit. I know there are club swimmers in Stillwater who are choosing not to join and I would like to get them out there. If we can add another 8 or 10 girls it will give us a little more depth. I teach some swim lessons and we’re trying to get some younger girls in the sport.”
Juliette Schmidt, a 2000 SAHS grad who has spent the past 10 seasons coaching in the program, will return as an assistant coach.
Henderson admitted the bar is set high at Stillwater and looks forward to the challenge of building on the program’s nearly four decades of dominance.
“I learned from the best and it definitely can be a challenge because I have some really big shoes to fill,” Henderson said. “It is going to be a challenge, especially those first couple of years, for me to step into such a legacy. On the good side of that is that I’ve been part of the team for so long that I know what it takes to keep the team strong.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about Ms. Lu, she did a fabulous job. I learned so much from her and I’m going to use that as much as possible.”
Suapaia adds to staff
Stillwater volleyball coach Jamie Suapaia has filled out his coaching staff while gearing up for his first season with the Ponies.
Jamie’s father Sandy Suapaia will bring 47 years of volleyball coaching experience to the table as the new JV coach and Ken Bjorlin, a math teacher at SAHS, takes over as the sophomore coach.
Mike Zeno is slated to return as one of the two ninth-grade coaches.