By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
An All-Empire first teamer all four years of high school, recent Windsor graduate Sam Haley has been the Empire’s top high school boys swimmer for two years running.
After a third-place finish at the North Coast Section meet as a junior, Haley entered his senior season needing to prove little.
Aside from trying to improve upon already impressive personal records and preparing for NCS, what goals does a guy need to set when he hasn’t lost a league match since his freshman season?
The swimmer hit upon the answer as a junior. Already in possession of Windsor High records in four of eight individual events, Haley decided to spend his senior year chasing the four records he didn’t own.
“It kind of started last year when I started asking if I could do other events,” Haley said. “This year I just reaffirmed that I wanted to get all the records.”
Haley went into his senior season seeking records in the 50-yard freestyle, the 100 free, the 100 back and the 100 breast. He got them all.
“The last one I got was the breaststroke one,” he said. “I felt relieved.”
At the NCS meet in Concord, Haley turned in his best performance of his high school career, taking second in the 200 individual medley. The silver medal improved upon a third-place finish his junior year and a fourth-place showing as a sophomore. He also took fifth in the 100 butterfly after shaving two full seconds off his personal record during his senior year.
Haley, who swam with Neptune Swimming in Santa Rosa, said he was thrilled to spend his high school years working with Windsor coach Catherine Davis, who retired after last season. Davis’ daughter Allie and Haley both swam together as Neptunes.
“I knew Catherine before she started coaching, and I was excited to find out she’d be coaching high school,” he said. “One of the things that made her a great coach is that she told us she wanted us to become a winning team.
“That was a goal I took on,” he said. “I wanted to help the team win, too.”
Haley credited all his coaches and his mom with his success in the pool. He said his mother encouraged him to swim at a young age because, “She just wanted me to be good at something in high school.”
Haley ended up being good at more than just swimming. With high school over, he’s following fellow All-Empire boys swimmer of the year Ben Whitenack of Healdsburg to the University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League. He plans to compete on the swim team and take a pre-med track through his undergraduate studies, with an eye toward becoming a surgeon.
“As a sophomore assignment, we had to do a job shadow,” Haley said. “I shadowed a surgeon and was really intrigued by the whole process.”
At the college level, Haley will be facing a higher level of competition on a daily basis.
“It’s going to make me work harder, even in practice,” he said. “There’ll be people with similar times to me. The records are not the same, so I’m hoping I can get my name on a couple of the records because they put up a big board at the college pool.”
If he continues to work hard, Haley has a great shot at U.S. Olympic Trials in four years. As a high school senior, he twice came within a 10th of a second of qualifying for this summer’s trials in Omaha, Neb. The most painful miss came when he fell 0.01 second short of qualifying, the slimmest possible margin, right before the deadline.
"I was pretty upset about that, but my parents and coaches … were telling me, ‘it’s going to motivate you,’” he said.
While the qualifying standard for Olympic Trials can change, having four years of college swimming to drop just a little bit of time doesn’t seem so daunting.
“Hopefully in four years, I can place higher in trials,” Haley said with the confidence of someone used to meeting his goals.
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus @pressdemocrat.com.
2012 ALL-EMPIRE BOYS SWIMMING
SWIMMER OF THE YEAR
Sam Haley, Windsor, senior
Tanner MacDonald, Montgomery, sophomore
Jonathan Knox, Analy, sophomore
Dylan Steiner, Casa Grande, senior
Kevin Mertz, Santa Rosa, junior
Nathan Kuhn, Analy, junior
Janarthan Nadendla, Windsor, senior
Stefen Keller, Maria Carrillo, freshman
Harmon Gault, Petaluma, senior
Shannon Fong, Maria Carrillo, sophomore
Ben Crabb, Windsor, junior
Mark Samet, Casa Grande, junior
Richard Liang, Maria Carrillo, senior
Henry Steiner, Casa Grande, freshman
Matteo Merodio, Clearlake/Kelseyville, senior
Giancarlo Tarantino, Cardinal Newman, senior
Taka Shimokabe, Casa Grande, sophomore
James Scharfen, Cardinal Newman, senior
Michael Severi, Montgomery, junior
Ian McCaffrey, St. Helena, senior
Aric Lang, Rancho Cotate, freshman
Cliff Tai, Maria Carrillo, sophomore
Evan Thompson, Clearlake/Kelseyville, junior
Andrew Wang, Rancho Cotate, sophomore
COACH OF THE YEAR
Dave Pfeiff, Maria Carrillo
— All-Empire team compiled by Ruben DiRado for The Press Democrat