Although the high school swimming season takes place in the winter, state champions are often made during the summer.
That’s why Donner Swim Club is practicing twice a day on some days — from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and again from 3 to 5 p.m. Coach Jim Sheridan is hoping to find the next Cody Taylor to replace the two-time state breaststroke champion headed to Indiana University.
“Swimming is a very difficult sport,” Sheridan said. “You have to go every day. If you only go once a week, you’re not going to experience any strength gains in the water at all.”
Donner, the feeder program for the Columbus North and Columbus East High School programs, is growing by leaps and bounds. Sheridan has 269 kids participating, the biggest summer group in his 20 years with the program.
“One of the toughest things to do in a small community is have a large team,” Sheridan said. “Our parents have done a wonderful job of getting out there to recruit and get kids to experience the program.
“I think with the way these young kids have been swimming over the last couple of years, getting faster and faster and the coaching staff we have, we’re retaining the swimmers for longer periods of time now,” he said. “Normal retention is about 50 percent. Our goal would be about 70 to 80 percent.”
The club already has a couple meets under its belt this summer and is building toward the July 17-20 Senior State Championships and the July 24-26 Age-Group State Championships, both at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI.
“The goals this summer for the older kids are to get stronger,” Sheridan said. “It’s a short summer, so we have to get a lot in an eight-week period, where we normally have 10 or 11 weeks.”
“All the kids we have are such competitors,” Sheridan said. “It doesn’t matter who they’re swimming against, they like to race, and that’s one thing we’ve tried to get across in the program — getting stronger in the water, getting better technically in the water so when they grow and help our two high schools here in this community grow, it’s going to benefit everybody.”
Taylor and incoming freshman Michael Brinegar plan to swim in the U.S. Nationals in August in Irvine, California.
“It gives them an opportunity to race against the best 18-and-unders, 19-and-unders in the country and see where they rate,” Sheridan said.
Taylor has a shot at qualifying for the Pan-Pacific Games in August. Brinegar, 14, is a second alternate for the Pan Pacific Games after finishing 30th overall and fifth (58 minutes, 10 seconds) in the 16-and-under division in the 5K in the Open Water Nationals in Santa Clara, California.
“It was more of an experience because I hadn’t done a 5K before,” Brinegar said. “It was just getting out there to do it.”
Brinegar also finished second overall and first in his age group in the mile in 20:30.
Donner’s top senior-level girls swimmers include Grace Haskett, Maddie Wyke, Marah Bieger and Karen Wildemann, along with incoming freshmen Kaitlyn Niebrugge and Lauren Mackey.
“I didn’t swim last summer because I was injured, so I was excited to be back training long course,” Wyke said. “I’m making sure I’m putting in my hard work during practice because since I didn’t swim last summer, I have to get my times back to where they should be. That’s been my main focus this summer and putting down some fast times.”
Sheridan also sees talent in some of his age-group swimmers.
“I think our 11-12 girls this year, if they don’t win the title, are going to be right there for winning the title against the best 11-12 girls in the state this year,” Sheridan said. “They’re that strong, and they’re only getting better as they grow, which makes it fun.”
Sheridan said two of the big goals of the program are to help kids be safe when they’re around the water and to make the club a competitive program in the state and in the country.
“Donner has been around for 60-plus years, and it’s always had a great parent group here, a great volunteer group that has allowed the kids of Columbus a great program,” Sheridan said. “There’s been numerous coaches over 60-plus years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of them.”