Stretching her arm toward the wall on her final stroke, Haley Dennard made history as a freshman last January winning the Decatur Lady Eagles’ first swimming district title.
“Going in I didn’t know what to expect,” Dennard recalled about her victory in 100-yard freestyle. “It was an amazing feeling.”
It’s a feeling the now-sophomore hopes to repeat Saturday in the District 6-4A meet at the Denton Natatorium. Dennard and the rest of the Decatur swimmers will begin competing at 10 a.m.
Dennard swam a personal best 59.87 to win the title in the 100 last year and finished third at regionals with a 59.01. It was one of three regional medals Dennard captured.
But the regional bronze medalist in the 100 will not take a shot at repeating in the event. She moved out of the event to the 200 while continuing to swim the 50 and on the 200 and 400 relays.
“I wanted to try something new,” Dennard said. “I swam it once and really liked it. I just started the 200, but I hope to get a good time and a district championship.”
She enters the meet with the top 200 time of 2:10.7. Dennard said it’s far more taxing than her shorter sprints and has taken some time to get used to.
“All my normal events don’t add up to 200,” she said. “It’s like running the 800 in track. You’ve got to push yourself, but you have to save some for the end.”
The 200 will give Dennard more room for error than her other individual event, the 50. She finished fourth in it at district last year and third at regionals. She swam 26.39 at regionals.
“In the 50, the littlest thing can cost you,” she explained.
With her 26.04, Dennard enters district seeded second in the 50 behind a teammate, freshman Katey Rowden. She has welcomed Rowden and the challenge each day at practice.
“It’s been good having her and having someone pushing you,” Dennard said.
Decatur swim coach Doris Dennard said Katey and Haley have benefited from each other.
“They are competing every day instead of just in the meets,” the coach said.
The pool is not the only place Dennard finds competition. Her other passion is basketball, where she is a member of the first-place Decatur Lady Eagles.
“I couldn’t pick between them,” she said about choosing her favorite. “They are different sports, and there’s different things I love about each.”
But the two have simultaneous seasons, which creates a rather hectic schedule for Dennard.
“If you were picking two sports to do at the same time, these are the toughest,” said coach Dennard. “But these are the two that she likes the best.
“She’s handled it better this year. She’s eating the right food and getting enough rest. It’s all about time management.”
It’s managing an 11-hour day each day starting with swim practice at 6 a.m. and finally ending with the conclusion of basketball practice at 5:30 p.m. Game days are longer with the final buzzer around 8 p.m.
“I commend her,” said Decatur girls basketball coach Billy Garner. “I don’t know how she does it. She’s up at 5, swims and then comes out here and busts her tail.”
On days after games, Dennard said she thinks twice about jumping out of bed to get to the pool.
“I just want to sleep in, but once you start [swimming] it makes you feel better,” she said. “It wakes you up.”
She’s already started contemplating what she’s going to do in the future to fill the time that is now occupied by her favorite sports.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when swimming and basketball end,” Dennard said.
But she’s not ready to stop now as she hopes to bring home district titles in both sports in the next few weeks.