The first-year coach led the Lakers' girls golf team to a Class 1A state championship in 2021.
Rick Stewart came into his first season as the head girls golf coach at Windermere Prep with the simple goal of building a team that eventually would compete at the state level.
That goal quickly evolved after the team won the Citrus League tournament. He already knew he had a good group of strong competitors, but that victory also convinced him this team could accomplish more
And it did just that; the Lakers won the 2021 Class 1A state championship.
It was Windermere Prep’s first state championship in girls golf since 2012, the last of three consecutive state championships they won.
As the metaphorical cherry on top, Stewart now can add being 2021 Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1A Coach of the Year to a year full of accomplishments.
“It was a surprise when (Athletic Director Pat Hollern) sent me the text,” Stewart said. “But at the same time, I feel very honored and very proud to be named Coach of the Year. It’s very unexpected because it was my first year. It’s awesome.”
Although he was quick to credit his award to the team and the work players put in to win that state championship, Stewart said winning the award was a validation he did the right things in helping his players reach their potential.
“The girls have their own personal coaches, but what I was preaching to them the whole season (was) about course management, being mentally tough, (taking it) one shot at a time and being in the present,” Stewart said. “I think it validated all that I was teaching to the girls, telling them. … So, yeah, I feel a lot of validation.”
Stewart credited plenty of others for the honor, including Hollern for taking the chance on him, his father and many old coaches.
Hollern was impressed by how quick Stewart was able to mesh with the players and get them to respond to his coaching. Part of that was being a calming influence on the team when it needed it most, especially when senior Yoko Tai couldn’t compete at the state competition.
“He did a phenomenal job this year of maintaining consistency and patience throughout the year. His course management with the girls is consistent, which allows the girls the opportunity to share their ups and downs and know that the person they’re talking to that’s guiding them isn’t going to show those emotions,” Hollern said. “I believe they benefited from that tremendously, especially after they won the Citrus League. … Our girls, from that point forward, believed they had a shot to (win the state championship).”
Stewart appeared on Hollern’s radar for the head coaching position after a golfer’s mother mentioned to him the school was looking for a new girls golf coach and felt he would be perfect for the role. Encouraged, he gave her his résumé and met with Hollern. It was on a hunch he was selected to be the man, and that hunch seemed to have paid off.
“We’re going to try and find the best fit for our school and for our kids,” Hollern said. “Rick has done an amazing job to be the type of leader we’re looking for — consistent and committed to a process.”
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