Saturday Sports Buffet: No fish out of water – District champ swimmer finds success as college runner

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, January 23, 2016
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Gold Start

GOLD START – As a freshman in 2011, Haley Dennard won the first Decatur girls swimming district title in the 100. She went on to finish third at regionals in the event that spring. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

When Haley Dennard first got into the pool, she didn’t care much for it.

“When I was younger, I wouldn’t stick my head in the water,” Dennard recalls.

But it didn’t take long for her natural ability in the pool to show through. She made it to the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation games in her first year.

As she moved into high school, more success in the pool followed. As a freshman in January 2011, Dennard made school history, winning the swimming program’s first district title in the 100 freestyle in 59.87. (By mere minutes, she missed becoming the first Decatur swimmer to win district – an honor that went to now Messenger reporter David Talley in the 50).

“It was real exciting,” Dennard recalled. “It proved all the hard work paid off. It was still a new program, and there wasn’t a lot of success.”

She also got to share the success with her mother, Doris, the team’s coach.

Dennard went on to finish third at regionals as a freshman. Her sophomore year, she garnered three bronze medals at regionals. She also made a trip to regionals as a junior.

Making History

MAKING HISTORY – Haley Dennard helped the Tarleton State women’s cross country team win their first conference title this fall. Photo courtesy Tarleton State University

But in the spring of her junior year, Dennard found a new love – track. And like with swimming, she quickly found success, making the state meet in the 800. She closed out the year by finishing seventh in Class 3A in 2:22.87.

She followed that success with a 12th-place finish at the state cross country meet in the fall of 2013.

The success on the land led Dennard to make the difficult decision to leave the pool for her senior year.

“I spent so many hours swimming, and I got burned out,” Dennard said. “I picked up running and had success after I tried it out and started to focus more on it.”

And that decision continues to pay off for Dennard, a sophomore middle distance runner and cross country athlete at Tarleton State University.

In the fall, Dennard helped the TexAnns win their first Lone Star Conference women’s cross country title. Dennard ran a 23-minute, 57-second 6K to finish 18th at the conference championships.

“We’ve got a great group of girls,” Dennard said. “It’s hard work, and you’ve got to put in a lot of work.”

She’s now preparing for the indoor track season. She will be running the 800 and 1,500 this spring.

“My goals are to make the finals at conference and be one of the top in the conference,” Dennard said. “I want to go out and show I can compete and be one of the top runners in the conference.”

While she doesn’t get in the pool often anymore, she continues to reap rewards from the years in the pool.

“The swimming helped with running,” Dennard said. “It helped with the aerobics.”

She also said she learned some important lessons on time management from high school when she was trying to balance swimming, school and basketball.

“I had to pay attention to all the little details. That’s helped me in college,” she said.

Five years after stretching out to reach the wall and secure the district gold medal, it’s a memory she relishes.

“I wouldn’t change anything for the world,” she said. “I’m proud of all the accomplishments.”


  • The top-20 showdown between Bridgeport and Decatur lived up to the hype Tuesday with a packed house and both teams playing well in stretches. The one big takeaway was the experience of Bridgeport in big games after last year’s title run was a decided edge. The Bulls came out and shot 21-for-33. In the first nine minutes of the game, Bridgeport was 8-for-10 and had knocked down three 3-pointers. Decatur fought back from a 16-point deficit to get a shot at the lead. But again the experience of Bridgeport showed with a 13-4 run as a response. It will be interesting to see how both teams adjust before the Feb. 5 meeting and if Devonte Patterson will go 6-for-7 on 3-pointers.
  • A name to remember for big-time college basketball fans – RJ Nembhard. The versatile guard poured in 34 points last Friday for Keller in the 5-6A first-place showdown. He reminded me a lot of former North Crowley and Kansas star Keith Langford.
  • Several area basketball districts will come down to the final game. The most volatile might be 9-3A boys. Three teams – Paradise, Jacksboro and Holliday – entered Friday tied for fourth at 3-3. Paradise has also knocked off two of the three teams ahead of it – Henrietta and Nocona.
  • While the Big 12 may have been a slightly overrated football league this fall based on the bowls, it may be the best basketball conference in the country right now from top to bottom. The problem with everyone beating everyone is it may not land a No. 1 seed.
  • My picks at the start of the playoff were New England and Carolina for Super Bowl 50. I’ll stand by that. Though it would be nice to see Payton Manning have a shot to go out on top. For locals, it would be great to see Bridgeport product Colin Jones returning to the Bay area with the Panthers.
  • Watching the Mavericks game Monday against Boston two things came to mind – I actually covered high school games featuring the two starting point guards that went to Lewisville ISD schools – Marcus Smart (Flower Mound Marcus) and Deron Williams (The Colony), and Brad Stevens may be the most likable coach in the NBA.

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