Katie Wood’s first year at Flowery Branch High was a balancing act.
When she wasn’t learning the ropes as a first-year teacher, she was assembling the Lady Falcons girls soccer team in her first year as a varsity head coach.
"The whole year was a lot of things I’ve never done before," Wood said. "Teaching and coaching were both new to me."
But the former Piedmont College player didn’t let the new experiences keep her from building a formidable soccer team. Class AAA’s No. 11-ranked Flowery Branch won a school-record 13 games, the last one being its first-ever playoff win against Riverwood in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament.
For her efforts, Wood is The Times 2008 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
"It was a lot of pressure to follow the previous year’s success, but we didn’t lose a lot of players from last year’s team," Wood said. "The girls were very well conditioned and very determined."
Wood became part of conditioning herself. Having last played competitively in 2006, she coached her team from a different approach: playing with them.
"Most days I was practicing with them," Wood said. "I still play soccer today, and I still wanted to be part of the team."
Wood had plenty of athletes to play with, armed with five seniors, each with four years of varsity experience, in Delana Thomas, Kait Erhard, Angela Hogan, Jenny Josman and Brittney Fleeman.
She also had an experienced assistant coach in Chris Edwards.
"All year long I gave 98 percent credit to the girls," Wood said. "The other two percent was Chris."
But despite the varsity experience being lost, she’s assured that the future Lady Falcons can earn more than just two playoff appearances.
"We are spread out since we have four or five more upcoming seniors that can step up and get just us as far as this year," Wood said. "We are also getting an upcoming freshman class that won a Hall County championship."
Now, with a promising future of young players on the rise, and a boys team that has made three state semifinal appearances, the idea of a state title may not be that outlandish for the Flowery Branch girls team.
"A state championship should be every team’s goal," Wood said. "But in order to go further, we have to move one step at a time."
Wood’s only other coaching experience at high school level was as an "unofficial" assistant coach at Gainesville High in 2007, where she was a student-teacher.A year later, now a full-time social studies teacher at Flowery Branch, she is learning the importance of still being "coach" to her players off the field and in the classroom.
"I learned how to have a relationship with my players off the field and be a role model," Wood said. "I figured out what kind of coach I wanted to be."