A balancing act: Swimmers attempt to find the sweet spot with high school, club teams
High schools and the Rochester Swim Club have an overlapping season for part of the year in both boys and girls swimming. But the programs work with each other to try and develop as many strong swimmers in the area as possible.
Anna Ogren had spent more than a decade competing for the Rochester Swim Club.
During her senior year of high school in 2020-21, she wanted to have more fun with the sport and be a teammate with her younger sister.
With that in mind, Ogren joined and excelled with the John Marshall High School girls swimming and diving team in the fall of 2020. Ogren was aided by the fact she had already secured a scholarship offer from Division I University of Alabama.
“Yep, that did help,” she said. “I committed at the beginning of my junior year. So having that out of the way helped my decision that I could focus on having fun and just making sure that swimming was fun again for me and not making it all about the competition and hard stuff.”
So for one season, Ogren joined her sister, Julia, who was in seventh grade at the time and also a member of the John Marshall varsity.
“We really wanted to swim on a team together,” Anna Ogren said, "because back in club we wouldn’t have been training in the same group. So this way we could be on a team for the first time together.”
Numerous swimmers in Rochester balance their time between their high schools and club teams and there are benefits to both. Even though they have overlapping seasons for part of the year, the two programs try to benefit each other.
“It’s a partnership, they enhance each other,” Century boys swimming and diving coach Linda Freeman said.
The programs may be run a bit different, but the goal is to develop as many quality swimmers as possible.
“Club and high school are just two different experiences,” Julia Ogren said. “High school was the first time I got to swim with Anna and that was a lot of fun, too.”
Team-first at high schools
Being part of a team is a big difference between high school and club swimming. Club tends to be more individualistic by nature while high school tends to have a lot more bonding.
“A lot of kids join high school because it lends itself to a better team atmosphere,” Mayo High School girls coach Juliet Parlette said. “It’s a shorter meet, everyone stays. Whereas a club meet, you come and do your events and go. That’s just how it goes most of the time.”
Katie Homme, a junior at Century, does both high school and club swimming.
“I really encourage people who have the opportunity to swim on both high school and the club team,” she said. “Because high school brings the aspect of community and teamwork and the tight sisterhood that can sometimes be a little bit harder with club because it’s a much longer season and there’s a lot more swimmers on the team.”
“I feel like our teams are a lot closer in high school,” Julia Ogren said. “In high school we do more activities outside of practices. So that brought us a lot closer. In club, it’s probably more individual.”
A longer club season
Rochester Swim Club is basically year-round competitive swimming. Club swimming has a short-course (September to March) and a long-course (April to August) season. The long-course season features swimming in a 50-meter Olympic size pool while the short-course pool is 25 yards.
In high school, the girls swimming and diving season is in the fall and the boys have their season in the winter. Each season is only about 12-14 weeks and events are in a 25-yard pool.
“We have to get a lot done in 12 weeks,” Century High School co-coach Dale Magnuson said. “And our focus is not on time, but on place and being a team, and scoring points for the team. When we put the lineup together, it’s all about positioning athletes to score the most points for the team, whereas club is a much more individual sport.”
Freeman said she has worked with the club coaches and wants to make the swimmers faster for when they return to the club team.
“I’m making sure I’m on track with them and with the swimmers for their goals so at the end of the high school season, I can hand them back faster,” she said. “And then they’ll go back to club and get faster again.”
Club swim meets are categorized by age, with different levels among the age groups and swimmers can range from about 8 to 18. High school swimmers on the varsity level can range from grades 7-12.
Tom Walsh is the head coach of the Rochester Swim Club. He said the club currently has about 240 active swimmers. About 120 of those swimmers are middle and high school age, 13 and older.
“I would say probably 75 to 80 percent of those swim high school,” Walsh said. “And some of those who don’t are from smaller area towns that do not have high school teams.”
Magnuson said about 60 percent of the girls on this year’s Century team also swim on the club team in some capacity. Freeman, a former club coach, said about 40 percent of the Century boys swim on the club team.
John Marshall boys and girls coach Paul Bachman used to coach in the summer with club swimming, but he drifted away from that as fewer JM swimmers joined the club team.
“I’d say 95 percent of my kids do high school only,” Bachman said. “I don’t have very many kids that do both club and high school. It depends on what your aspirations are.”
Swimmers on the high school team are not allowed to miss a practice for a club practice. Some athletes will swim in the morning with the club team and then an afternoon practice with the high school team.
“During the high school season, many of the kids will do dual training,” Walsh said. “They come and swim in the morning with the club and then practice with their high schools in the afternoon.”
The training aspect
To get better, coaches and swimmers realize that the athletes have to put in the work. The training methods between club and high school swimming can vary, but with a longer season, club swimmers may have more time to develop their skills. The club team may also have a higher percentage of highly competitive swimmers.
“In high school, you have to do a lot more quality, not quantity,” Bachman said in terms of yardage. “That’s what we kind of focus on the quality of your workout, not the quantity. We have to work more on technique.”
Freeman says she also does a lot of technique and fine tuning with swimmers that help them shave fractions of a second off their times.
“I do lots and lots of skill work, stroke work, turn work, starts,” Freeman said. “Some of the stuff they don’t have a lot of time to do in club.”
Parlette has also coached for the Rochester Swim Club. She has two sons — Grafton, who has graduated, and Thomson — who swam for Century at one point but then decided to just swim for the club team.
“Part of the reason why Grafton and Thomson stopped swimming for high school was because of yardage,” Parlette said. “Most high school programs just don’t have the space or the time to do the yardage that they need.”
Also, two of Thomson Parlette’s best events are the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley, which are not events offered in high school.
“That’s kind of the issue, they just need more training,” Parlette said. “With my elite (girls high school) swimmers, and I have two, they do a ton of extra work and they do go to club morning practices. And I encourage them to and I want them to so they get those extra yards.”
Walsh said he works with the high school coaches regarding the swimmers’ training.
“Our goal is to have the kids be as successful as they possibly can in their swimming,” Walsh said. “The majority of those kids swim nine months with the club each year and three months with the high school.
“I want to support the athletes to do whatever they feel is the most important to them,” he added. “If they want to swim high school, that’s awesome and I’m going to support them.”
A difference in meets
Club and high school meets can be vastly different. Club meets tend to be big-meet affairs with a lot of teams and there are usually only one or two meets a month.
In high school, most events are dual meets until the postseason conference, section and state meets take place. Teams average about one meet a week during the regular season.
“I kind of enjoy the high school team a bit more because you can better test how you’re doing,” Bachman said. “Because you have like four meets a month rather than one a month.”
In high school swimming, there are eight individual swimming events. There are more than twice that in club swimming, with longer events offered. The longer and more varied events may be a reason why some swimmers choose to only compete at the club level.
“They swim the full list of college events in club swimming which is different from what the high schoolers do,” Walsh said.
Club swimmers have fewer events a month and typically have to travel much farther distances, sometimes halfway across the country. And the meets can last two or three days and feature as many as 1,000 swimmers.
“We’ve been everywhere (for club swimming),” Parlette said. “There was one summer when we spent 20 nights in a hotel room. … You can be all over the place.”
High school swimmers are limited to two individual events and two relay events per meet so coaches have to use more strategy to get the most points possible. Club swimmers are not limited to the number of events they can participate in, but do need to meet time standards to qualify.
“I can only put four individual athletes in an event,” Magnuson said. “That can be a positioning thing.”
And that can cause swimmers to switch individual events during the course of the high school season if they want to be assured a varsity spot.
“That’s really the biggest difference between club and high school,” Magnuson said. “It’s about the team and it’s about maximizing points as a team.”
And while they may be competing for swimmers to join their squads, Rochester coaches admit working together helps all of the programs and the Rochester swimming community.
“The open line of communication helps tremendously,” Parlette said
“We always encourage kids in high school, if you want to get better, continue swimming year round,” Magnuson said. “So we have kids saying ‘I want to get better, what should I do.’ We tell them to go swim club. It helps the club out, it helps us out. So the more we work together, the better off we’ll be.”