HUDDLE Head coach Dean Clark speaks to his swimmers during a recent meet against Piner. (Photo by Michael Lucid)

The swim team at Healdsburg High School has long punched above its weight.

At a school of just over 500 students, nearly 5% of the student body is on the swim team. And in recent years—under the guidance of head coach Dean Clark and assistant coaches Lorna Hayman and Alison Fealy, former Stanford University swimmer—the boys and girls swim teams from Healdsburg High have triumphed over many of the larger schools within their division and league.

The boys team has done particularly well over the past two years. It beat out the four other teams in the Redwood Division of the North Bay League for the No. 1 spot in the division both years, and placed in the top three of 10 teams at league championships last year.

“This is our best finish in years, and we are the smallest high school in the league,” Clark said at the league meet, held last April 27-28 at the Santa Rosa Junior College pool.

The girls, meanwhile, came in fifth at last year’s league meet—still a recent best. And their coach thinks 2024 may be an even bigger season for them.

While many of the fastest swimmers on the boys team graduated last year, the girls team is 12 members strong and looking “a little better this year,” Clark says. “It’s their turn to shine.”

The coach is always shocked by how quickly the young athletes improve over the course of a single three-month season. “It happens overnight,” he says. “High school is amazing. From the start of the season to the end, there’s a 10 to 50% improvement on their speed and how well they do.”

YOUNG TALENT Healdsburg freshman Sienna Yielding swam in a freestyle race versus Piner last month—staying strong despite her goggles falling off as she dove into the pool, a common conundrum in the sport. (Photo by Michael Lucid)

Both the boys and girls teams from Healdsburg have won their two meets so far this season, against Piner and Rancho Cotate, and have two left, against the more competitive Windsor and Analy teams, before league championships. As of press time on Wednesday, they were about to compete in a home meet against Windsor High—arguably their biggest rival within the division, with a much more populous student body and at least a dozen more swimmers.

It’s a friendly kind of rivalry, though. Since the Windsor swim team doesn’t have its own pool, “Windsor’s home pool is our pool,” Clark says. “So it’s kind of a home-on-home meet.”

The swimmers like to call these meets “cats versus dogs,” seeing as the Windsor Jaguars are playing the Healdsburg Hounds.

Another challenge for this week’s Windsor meet is that some of Healdsburg’s best swimmers—including senior team captain Hadley Rueter, a star student in the high school’s renowned culinary program—are down in Southern California, competing in the annual SkillsUSA contests for vocational arts.

“The kids have a lot of things pulling them in different directions,” their coach says.

Still, the small but mighty swim team at Healdsburg High has undeniable pull. “We’re lucky to have a pool right here on campus,” Clark says. “Kids think it’s fun and tell their friends that it’s a good time. It’s got a good reputation.”

Coach Clark has high hopes for his swimmers at championships this year. But no matter what happens, he says, “We’ll be up there, and the kids are having fun. That’s what matters.”

Update from Coach Clark on Thursday, April 4: “Both teams swam really well and the Windsor meet ended late yesterday. The Healdsburg girls team won against a large and spirited Windsor team, with some great contests, and are now 3-0. The Healdsburg boys had a hard-fought contest but ended up with a tough loss to a very good and much larger Windsor boys team. Healdsburg boys are now 2-1.”

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Simone Wilson was born and raised in Healdsburg, CA, where she was the editor of the Healdsburg High School Hound's Bark. She has since worked as a local journalist for publications in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City and the Middle East. Simone is now a senior product manager and staff writer for the Healdsburg Tribune.


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