by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley boys and girls swimming and diving programs had a void to fill.
After four years leading both programs since their inception, Kara Liddle stepped down as head coach, leaving an opening for a program that is entering its fifth year.
So who was going to step in? Enter veteran head coach Julie Reilly.
She will take over as head coach for the Eagles and brings a wealth of experience to a program that is still relatively new. Reilly has been coaching for more than 27 years as she’s led local club teams and was also a U.S. Paralympic Swim coach and the USA National Down Syndrome Swim team head coach of the in the past.
While Reilly has coached high school athletes on club teams, this will be her first time leading a high school program.
“Kara was leaving and nobody was stepping up to the job,” Reilly said. “There’s a lot of great talent in Grain Valley. They’re a sleeping dog and if we can get them started again and have a coach, I will step up to that.”
She will try to help rebuild an Eagles boys program this fall that lost a handful of seniors from last year’s team. So far, Reilly has about eight swimmers and divers that have been working out over the summer, but she is still working on getting more athletes to join.
“We are still recruiting. A lot of people still don’t know that we have a swim team,” Reilly said.
Last season, Grain Valley saw a diver qualify for the Missouri State High School Boys Swimming and Diving Championships. Then-sophomore Kollin Hansuld became the second Eagles diver to make it to state in program history.
Hansuld will be a key piece of last season’s team to return to the Eagles as he has set some big goals for himself.
“I want to get the school record for the six dive and 11 dive scores,” Hansuld said. “I think I have a pretty good chance of doing that this year.”
Senior Even Reich also returns as the team’s most experienced swimmer as he will compete in the relay and 200 freestyle events.
“Our relays were super close to making it to state last year and I would have been the next up to swim in the 200,” Reich said. “I want to make it to state. I am on all three relays for the school record, but I want to be on the record board for an individual event. The 200 free is the one where I feel like I will be able to make it.”
There will also be some newcomers entering the fold as senior Riley Strickland will be trying diving for the first time. Freshman Gage Wright will join the program and will both swim and dive for the Eagles. Hayden Harshman is another freshman who will also see time in the pool.
Reilly will try and help her experienced and new swimmers reach their goals. In preseason practices, she has put the main focus on her swimmers perfecting their technique.
“I do work on a lot of technique, because if I can get that down and have them grab that concept, then stroke will be faster, cleaner and better,” Reilly said.
Reich added that there is a stark contrast in the coaching styles of Liddle and Reilly, and he is hopeful that he and his team can have a good season in 2022.
“Each practice feels a whole lot different,” Reich said. “We have a lot of young leadership on the team to show what we have. It’s a really positive change for everyone.”
“A big difference is we are focusing our sets on getting our form correct instead of building endurance. The practices are different, and we are getting better in different ways. The coaches are doing a good job of getting us better and I am excited about the season moving forward.”
From left, senior diver Riley Strickland, senior swimmer Evan Reich and junior diver Kollin Hansuld are the three upperclassmen who will compete on the Grain Valley boys swimming and diving team under new head coach Julie Reilly. Photo credit: Michael Smith