It seems like everywhere you look around the Byron High School swimming pool, you can catch a glimpse of a Dixon High School girl.
Seven Duchesses are swimming for the Tigers' co-op this fall, the most since Dixon joined the program in 2008.
"It's pretty great, and we're always trying to get more girls into it," junior Abbey Blackbourn said. "Once they realize how great an experience this is, hopefully we can just keep brining more and more Dixon girls up here with us."
Back in 2008, the carpool up Route 2 was pretty small. Rose Thompson and Ciara Lightner made the most of the 54-mile round trip between the high schools, as Thompson qualified for state all 4 of her years and Lightner in 3 of her 4.
Junior Kaylyn Rice remembers swimming with those two as a freshman, when she went to state with a pair of relay teams. Now, she knows it's up to her and her classmates to keep that tradition going.
"I used to watch them and see how they did it," Rice said, "and I'm trying to keep that alive. They're the ones who kept me coming back, and now I'm always going around and asking the younger Dixon Dolphins swimmers how old they are and if they want to swim in high school."
That's the pipeline coach Pat Egan and the Tigers have tapped. The Dixon YMCA's youth swim program has been going strong for nearly two decades, and Egan is eager to see how fruitful it will continue to be.
"We started our co-op 24 years ago with the idea that we could get kids who loved to swim out for a team in high school, even if their school didn't offer it as a sport," Egan said. "We give them the opportunity to continue doing something they love, and they provide us with the depth and talent necessary to be competitive.
"I also love seeing the girls meet people from other schools, really forge friendships that they may otherwise never have had the chance to form."
In addition to Byron (12 swimmers) and Dixon, the co-op also involves Stillman Valley (6 swimmers), Winnebago (5 swimmers), Forreston (Patricia Eilders) and West Carroll (Katelyn Morrow).
Egan said all of the varsity swimmers are involved in club swimming around the area. Rice, Blackbourn and classmate Alissa Helfrich are no different, having swam for the Dolphins since they were young.
Rice started at 6 months old when her mother took her to a parent-child program. Blackbourn remembers signing up to swim the summer she was 7. Helfrich doesn't remember her age, but recalls the feeling after her first dip in the water.
"One of my friends dragged me to the pool one day, and I never left," Helfrich said. "I was hooked, and I've loved it ever since."
What kept them coming back was watching their times constantly get faster, as well as winning a few races at club meets.
"It's like an addiction … but it's a really good addicition," Rice said. "I've been in the pool since my mom took me to a parent-child program when I was 6 months old, and I swim every day but Sunday. Once you get a taste of it, you keep coming back."
That's what the girls hope more friends and fellow Dolphins will realize as they get into high school. The current Duchesses want to make sure the pipeline to Byron never dries up, and they're happy to be ambassadors of the Tigers' program.
"We want to keep the Dixon tradition going," Blackbourn said. "Once you feel that thrill of getting faster, of winning a race, it's something you never forget … and something you want to feel again. We want more girls to feel that."
"It's awesome to have so many of us here in Byron," Helfrich added, "and we're want that number to keep going up. We'll keep trying to get more girls to join us, and keep coming after we're gone."
• There are 7 Dixon students on the Byron girls swimming roster for the 2013 season. That's the most since DHS joined the co-op in 2008. Dixon's Rose Thompson qualified for state in eight events over her 4 years, and classmate Ciara Lightner went to state in four events over 3 years.