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Former West Hall soccer standout back home and coaching at Flowery Branch

POSTED: February 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Flowery Branch High girls soccer head coach Katie Wood watches Katie Peifer and the rest of her squad warm up before Wednesday afternoon's practice.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — They say that home is where the heart is, and for Katie Wood that statement couldn’t be more true.

A former standout soccer player at West Hall, Wood has made her return to Hall County, but instead of playing within the lines, she’s standing outside of them as the head coach of Flowery Branch’s varsity girls team.

"I knew I wanted to start my career here because I grew up here and I love the area," said Wood, who teaches social studies at the high school. "I think Hall County is a unique area because all the schools are so close and everyone knows each other. Plus, there are good rivalries here and that makes it a good area to coach in."

Perfect résumé

This is the first year of coaching for the 24-year-old Wood, whose stellar career at West Hall gave her the opportunity to play at Piedmont College after she graduated in 2002.

According to Wood, playing in college only prepared her more for life as a coach.

"A lot of the drills and systems that I learned in college I try to incorporate out here," said Wood, who received her masters degree from Piedmont in 2007. "I remember the drills that I did that made me better and those are the ones that I have them do."

The fact that she played soccer in college is one of the things that makes Wood such an asset to the Lady Falcons.

"Knowing the game and the level the girls are trying to be at, there’s definite coaching credibility," assistant coach Chris Edwards said. "The girls are used to being trained hard, but they are more disciplined this year from what I can tell, and for the first time they are complaining about being sore, which is a good thing."

One player that is benefiting from Wood’s collegiate experience is senior tri-captain Delana Thomas, who will be playing soccer at North Georgia in 2009.

"She knows what it takes at the next level and she’s preparing us to be able to play like that right now in high school," the senior midfielder said. "She has the perfect background and experience that a coach needs."

Wood credits her coaching style to her college coach Jason Smith and former high school coaches Steve Sweat and Sharon Delp Qualls, but she admits that she still has a lot to learn.

"I’m fresh right now and I’m still developing," said Wood. "But I expect a lot from them and I work them hard."

Girl power

Aside from being fresh out of college, another reason that Wood is different from her predecessor at Flowery Branch, Vince Strine, is the fact that she is of the female gender, thus immediately having something in common with her players.

"Having a female figure that they can look up to and relate to and talk to is very helpful for female athletes," Wood said.

Added Thomas: "She’s a girl and some people may think that she’s not as tough, but it’s quite the opposite. She’s harder on us and she expects more of us because she knows what it’s like to be a lady playing soccer and she knows what we are capable of."

Even Edwards, who assisted Strine during his tenure as the Lady Falcons head coach, has noticed the positive aspect of having a female coach.

"The girls are responding to her in an openness that hasn’t been seen before," Edwards said. "That’s always a bonus when a team has good communication with their coach. Not like it wasn’t there before, it’s just on a different level; it’s female to female."

Building on success

With a 12-5-2 record and an appearance in the state playoffs, the Lady Falcons had one of their most successful seasons in 2007. And although the coach of that team has moved on to coach the girls lacrosse team at Gainesville High, the new head coach is looking to improve on that success.

"This varsity team made it to the first round of the state playoffs last year and I definitely want to take them back and improve on that," Wood said.

Even though she inherited a strong team, and the team has yet to play its first game with Wood as a coach, her assistant believes that she has already improved the team.

"If anybody looks negatively upon her they are going to claim that she inherited a good team," Edwards said. "My response to that would be that she inherited a good team, but she took them to a different level."

Although she is set to marry Piedmont’s baseball recruiting coach Justin Scali this summer, and she admits that his career may take her outside of Flowery Branch and Hall County, Wood would still like to stay close to home.

"I definitely don’t want to be too far from this area because I grew up here and my family is still here," she said. "I love teaching at Flowery Branch and I love these girls and I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon."



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