COLUMBIA — MU graduate Karen Steger has taken the helm as head swim coach for the boys' and girls' swim teams at both Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.
Steger, a four-time qualifier at Hazelwood Central High School in the late 1990s, said she remembers what it was like to swim against former head coach John Hamilton's team.
"Hickman's girls' team was really, really good," Steger said. "They were the team that everyone was scared of. They were very intimidating."
After graduating from MU in 2003, Steger moved to Mooresville, N.C., and became head swim coach at Lake Norman High School in 2005. While coaching at Lake Norman, her boys' team never finished worse than fourth in state, and had a first-place finish in 2009. Her girls' team placed in the top 10 during the six years she coached there, including fourth-place finishes in 2009 and 2010.
But even with all her successes at Lake Norman, Steger said she couldn't resist the opportunity to come back to Columbia.
"When one of my friends told me that this job was open, I was like, 'Well, I miss Columbia. I love Mizzou, I love Mizzou sports and I love St. Louis sports, so I was kind of looking for a reason to come back,'" Steger said.
It was difficult for her to take over teams that have had the same coach for 33 years.
"It was very intimidating at first," Steger said. "I felt very out of my element."
But, she said, it's gotten easier.
“I think we have a lot of talent, and a lot of the kids try really hard," she said. "It's refreshing that they care about each other like a family. It doesn’t matter who they swim for, Hickman or Rock Bridge," Steger said.
Senior swimmer Eric Wetz has already seen the team’s improvements.
“This year, there has been a much looser attitude with the team, and it's easier to communicate with the coaches," he said.
The Rock Bridge and Hickman boys' swim teams will compete in the Ozark Invitational Saturday in Springfield.