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Van Cleave Getting Results From Swimmers
The Oakdale swim team has made tremendous strides under the guidance of head coach Russ Van Cleave and his coaching staff. - photo by JAGADA CHAMBERS/THE LEADER
Over the past four years the swimming program has been taken to new heights in Oakdale and that is a direct result of the time and effort given by Oakdale High head swimming coach Russ Van Cleave and his coaching staff.
Van Cleave has helped guide a relatively unknown Oakdale swimming community into the uncharted waters of their most recent success.
The Oakdale swim team has built a solid reputation amongst the other prevalent swimming communities and now has asserted themselves as one of the stronger programs in a powerful Sac-Joaquin Section.
The success has come largely in part due to Van Cleave and his coaching staff implementing programs to assist the community in breaking onto the national scene and giving some of the best swimmers in the area an avenue to shine on.
“We are getting a lot of support,” Van Cleave said. “We had over 200 swimmers in our swim program, that is more than we have ever had over the four years I’ve been coaching. I think parents enjoyed the structure of the practices and I think they like the teaching that we’ve been doing.”
There is no mistaking that Oakdale has eclipsed early expectations on the swimming horizon, giving the competitive swimmer and the recreational swimmer both an opportunity to take their skills to higher levels.
Van Cleave’s staff has helped make a tremendous difference for the entire program, elevating the interest of the parents as well as the swimmers, assisting the likeliness of each child enjoying success.
Oakdale now offers an extended swimming program (from August to October) and a year-round swimming program that is completing its first full season.
Swimmers from the year-round program saw some of its more talented swimmers reach the Junior Olympics, as well as sending some to the Short and Long Course’s Far Westerns, giving the program participants a chance to compete against the best swimmers in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“At one level we offer swimming to any child that wants to come out,” Van Cleave said. “And then we have an opportunity for a workout for the kid who is really going to excel. For example Tyler Lee, who is one of our better swimmers, placed in Sections in the 200-IM, he needs a certain workout where a novice swimmer needs a different workout.”
Van Cleave has been able to balance the juggling act of keeping his premiere swimmers progressing at a stunning rate, while taking the time and effort to develop the child swimmer who may be in the water for the first time ever.
“One thing we have done is adding the swim lessons and learn to swim classes,” Van Cleave said. “These are separate entities, but it is fun being a part of both. 
“I see all the kids in both programs and it’s fun for me seeing them when they get to high school.”
Van Cleave would be in no position to have his program thriving as it is without the assistance of a solid assistant coaching corps. Responsibilities are divided up between the coaching staff, keeping a level of balance that few swimming clubs have.
“Adding Melissa Meyer and Nicole Sutton,” Van Cleave said, “and my son Andrew, plus the other coaches that help with recreation and swim lessons, having them there has helped me not have to get to know 250 people.
“That has helped everybody and I think that is why the numbers are getting better.”
Van Cleave also entrusts a great deal of responsibility to Kim Boyle, helping each young swimmer find a personality that they can feel comfortable with. 
“I really don’t feel overwhelmed at all,” the head coach said. “I feel that I have good assistants and they do a great job, so I can focus on the group I’m working with. I know things are getting done at the other end of the pool and I don’t have to worry about that.”
Van Cleave swam competitively for 11 years, competing at the junior college level for two years before injuries began to catch up with the Oakdale coach. The talent level he is instructing now clearly has the potential to accomplish great things in the pool and that is what drives the coach.
“I am glad I am back in it,” Van Cleave said. “And I’m happy to be in Oakdale. Out of all the places you would think swimming is starting to flourish, Oakdale would be one of the last ones.
“Who would have thought we would have swimmers out here ranked in the nation?”