Coach of the year: Stephani Gonzalez honored by Swim Columbus team for statewide award


Swim Columbus swimmers crowd around coach Stephani Gonzalez, right, on Thursday at the downtown YMCA. Gonzalez was named age group swim coach of the year by her peers within Mississippi Swimming on Sunday, and her team honored her Thursday with a cake, a card and a blue bag full of candy.

Swim Columbus swimmers crowd around coach Stephani Gonzalez, right, on Thursday at the downtown YMCA. Gonzalez was named age group swim coach of the year by her peers within Mississippi Swimming on Sunday, and her team honored her Thursday with a cake, a card and a blue bag full of candy. Photo by: Theo DeRosa/Dispatch Staff


Theo DeRosa



Stephani Gonzalez began to suspect it wasn't actually Axel Phillips' birthday party when Phillips didn't show up.


Gonzalez, starting her third season as the coach of Swim Columbus, was overseeing practice at the downtown YMCA on Thursday when a young swimmer accidentally let the question slip: Was Gonzalez excited for the party?


"I was just like, 'Uh, sure, yeah. What party?' Gonzalez said. "One of the older kids tried to cover it up by saying, 'Axel's birthday party -- didn't you know?'"



But Phillips, Gonzalez's star 7-year-old swimmer, wasn't there. (He doesn't turn 8 until Oct. 31, as it happens.) The coach began to put two and two together.


So when the cake bearing her name in white icing was unveiled on a table at the corner of the pool area, she wasn't surprised. Inwardly, anyway.


"I'm shocked!" she said loudly to her assembled young charges when it became clear the celebration was for her.


No, Gonzalez knew the real reason for the cake, the card and the bag full of candy she received: On Sunday, she had been named "Coach of the Year" for age group swimmers (13 and under, Gonzalez said) by her peers within Mississippi Swimming.


"Honestly, when I got the email that I won it, I pretty much squealed really loud," Gonzalez said.


Naturally competitive, the Caledonia High School and Delta State University graduate said she was excited to earn the award for the first time.


"I just like winning in general," she said.


Apparently, so does her family. Gonzalez's brother Robert, a coach with Shockwave Oxford, won the other coach of the year award given out Sunday, for the senior group -- anyone over 13, according to Gonzalez.


"I was super excited that we both got to win the award for this year," she said.


But perhaps no one was more excited than Gonzalez's young swimmers, who crowded around her as she read the card they made her, illustrated with a crayon mermaid on the front.


As she opened the blue bag with seemingly a bottomless supply of candy, they clamored around. Someone snatched the package of Reese's peanut butter cups and ran around the deck with it.


"Let's be honest: I think they're more excited about the party than they are about their coach winning," Gonzalez said. "But it's all good."


She said Swim Columbus is also getting excited for its first big meet of the season, set for December in Biloxi. Another meet will take place the following weekend in Jackson.


So far, the team has had just one event -- the "Border Bash," a dual swim meet in which Swim Columbus competed against the Shockwave Aquatics Swim Team (SWAT) out of Starkville on Sept. 12. It was the first dual meet held at the downtown YMCA and the first meet Swim Columbus had participated in since February because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Juva donated smoothies and other treats, and the Schmidt's & Jiggles food truck was up and running in the parking lot.


Results from the events are below.


Border Bash results, Sept. 12


Mixed Open 200 Medley Relay


SCSO 2:30.97


SWAT 3:55.54


SCSO 2:37.85


Mixed 8&U 25 Fly


Axel Phillips 19.29


Isaac Clardy 22.53


Justin Chung 27.43


Colin Smith 28.4


Evelyn Stanley 38.13


Olivia Shivers 41.14


Kit Kat Snyder 42.18


Mixed 9‐10 50 Fly


Hayden Wallace 40.96


Masha Tsvetkova 43.86


Kameron Wright 48.25


Izzy Clark 48.5


Eli McKeller 50.11


Grice Garner 54.24


Chapman Hill 58.86


William Shivers 1:03.72


Elizabeth Anderson 1:06.79


Eli Brown 1:31.84


Mixed 11‐12 50 Fly


Colin Wright 34.48


Michaela Clardy 37.45


Charles Harrell 40.52


Lockhart Garner 41.40


Alena Stanley 41.59


Cade O'Brien 44.49


Caston McKeller 44.65


Katie Chung 44.74


Daniel Snyder 47.16


Hollis Fenstermacher 56.06


Mixed 8&U 25 Breast


Axel Phillips 24.08


Justin Chung 28.64


Isaac Clardy 30.84


Evelyn Stanley 31.43


Colin Smith 36.23


Olivia Shivers 51.97


Dean Stanley 52.65


Kit Kat Snyder 1:05.39


Mixed 9‐10 50 Breast


Masha Tsvetkova 46.99


Eli McKeller 47.14


Izzy Clark 47.15


Kameron Wright 51.61


Grice Garner 52.72


Hayden Wallace 52.74


Chapman Hill 59.66


William Shivers 1:07.56


Elizabeth Anderson 1:15.22


Mixed 11‐12 50 Breast


Colin Wright 40.78


Alena Stanley 41.81


Cade O'Brien 44.38


Caston McKeller 45.24


Charles Harrell 45.91


Katie Chung 46.53


Lockhart Garner 52.91


Hollis Fenstermacher 57.03


Cecelia Buehlar 57.6


Daniel Snyder 59.3


Mixed Open 50 Breast


Michaela Clardy 45.18


Mixed 8&U 25 Back


Axel Phillips 19.85


Isaac Clardy 22.04


Justin Chung 27.25


Evelyn Stanley 28.27


Colin Smith 32.51


Olivia Shivers 33.69


Kit Kat Snyder 34.98


Britton Whittington 36.19


Dean Stanley 36.6


Addy Grace Whittington 52.18


Mixed 9‐10 50 Back


Kameron Wright 41.16


Masha Tsvetkova 42


Grice Garner 44.19


Hayden Wallace 44.61


Izzy Clark 45.01


Eli McKeller 45.98


William Shivers 54.75


Elizabeth Anderson 56.62


Chapman Hill 1:08.64


Eli Brown 1:18.73


Mixed 11‐12 50 Back


Colin Wright 33.74


Alena Stanley 37.62


Caston McKeller 38.44


Lockhart Garner 39.94


Cade O'Brien 39.94


Daniel Snyder 41.17


Katie Chung 42.01


Charles Harrell 43.66


Cecelia Buehlar 56.02


Hollis Fenstermacher 56.29


Reed Edwards 1:01.97


Mixed Open 50 Back


Michaela Clardy 36.63


Mixed 8&U 25 Free


Axel Phillips 16.91


Isaac Clardy 20.57


Justin Chung 21.18


Colin Smith 22.5


Britton Whittington 26.99


Evelyn Stanley 27.38


Olivia Shivers 34.35


Kit Kat Snyder 36.22


Addy Grace Whittington 37.66


Dean Stanley 41.72


Mixed 9‐10 50 Free


Kameron Wright 36.00


Hayden Wallace 36.09


Axel Phillips 36.28


Masha Tsvetkova 37.58


Izzy Clark 38.90


Eli McKeller 40.18


Grice Garner 43.88


William Shivers 48.81


Elizabeth Anderson 50.66


Chapman Hill 51.68


Eli Brown 58.34


Jacob Williams 1:08.84


Mixed 11‐12 50 Free


Lockhart Garner 38.97


Charles Harrell 36.31


Caston McKeller 34.28


Katie Chung 39.31


Daniel Snyder 34.37


Alena Stanley 32.66


Colin Wright 29.96


Cade O'Brien 33.47


Michaela Clardy 31.59


Cecelia Buehlar 44.94


Hollis Fenstermacher 48.63


Reed Edwards 1.03.31


Mixed Open 100 Free


Michaela Clardy


Katie Chung



Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.


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