The Otumoetai Swimming Club continues to make a major splash on the New Zealand swim circuit.
It is the only club outside Auckland and Wellington in the top four, with numbers of swimmers aged 12 and under attending this weekend's New Zealand Junior Championships at Auckland's Westwave Aquatic Centre.
Otumoetai is sending 24 swimmers to compete in 116 races, the fourth-equal number out of the 91 clubs attending, and their team makes up over half the swimmers from the wider Bay of Plenty.
Club president David Mercer has been with the club for five years and says the difference with Otumoetai is its focus on the whole club, rather than elite squads.
"We have a unique situation here where we have a learn-to-swim group that goes through a swimming pathway, which includes Aqua Fit and squad swimming," Mercer said.
"Unfortunately, as some of our squad swimmers approach 12 to 13-years-old, the benchmark on achieving qualifying times can prove too big a hurdle and some are not quite hitting the grade, and they tend to wane off. So we put Aqua Fit in to allow a pathway for swimmers to go into water polo and surfing, plus leaving a window of opportunity should they want to reassess, in the future, competitive swimming.
"One important outcome from the Aqua Fit programme is that the swimmers become self-motivated in a way, as they want to do it. Obviously it is a big commitment to get to the pool at quarter to six in the morning, five times a week."
One of the success stories of the programme has been James Mercer, who was only invited back into the squads in November and is one of eight Otumoetai swimmers competing at the NZ Age Group Championships in Wellington from February 26.
The 14-year-old swam in club squads for three years, before having a change and moving to Aqua Fit and joining the Tauranga Under-14 water polo team. James got back into competitive swimming and achieved a national qualifying time last year, which he never did in his junior years swimming.
Since 2009, all stages of the swim programme at Otumoetai have been under the guidance of experienced head coach Stephan Swanepoel.
Swanepoel understands finding the balance between hard training, having fun and teaching the right technique for his young swimmers to reach their full potential.
He has worked at some top clubs but says Otumoetai has a special atmosphere that contributes to its success.
"The atmosphere here is 100 per cent positive from the swimmers who love being here, to the parents who do a substantial amount of work to keep everything ticking over," said Swanepoel. "We have four lanes to run squads, which is very, very good, and we have a highly motivating learn to swim programme under our new co-ordinator Heidi-Jane Jones, who is doing a great job to get the kids up to a level where they can join the squads.
"The formula itself is just successful. In 2010 we took 16 to the NZ Juniors and I thought that was a big achievement, then last year we got up to 19 and I thought that was going to be hard to top. I wasn't sure how the next lot would compare but the talent pool is just amazing."
Otumoetai swimmers need not go far for motivation. Upstairs at the club, photos of one of New Zealand's finest swimmers in Moss Burmester are displayed. He is a life member of the club and drops in to encourage.
The next wave of aspiring swimmers will be hoping to emulate some of his record times at the two major events this month.
Otumoetai Swimming Club qualifiers
NZ Junior Championships (aged 12 and under)Isabella Akroyd, Antonia Ballantyne, Grace Blissett, Nikayla Bradley, Emily Cairns, Georgia Rattray, Samantha Reeder, Georgia Akroyd, Nicole Allen, Connie-Pearl Anderson, Kate Bradley, Georgia Clement, Danielle Spreadborough, Alice Williams, Tristan Eiselen, Daniel Shanahan, Thomas Hacker, Tamarau Kipa, Harry Low, Caelan Potts, Thomas Chaney, Daniel Miller, Benjamin Rowe, Taituha Woller.
NZ Age Group Championships (aged 13 to 18)
Samantha Carter, Madison Rennie, Georgia Hacker, Rhianna Maxwell, Jessica Miller, Brittney Goodrick, George Williams, James Mercer, Joshua Pickett, Damien Potts, Cameron Witney, Sam Wylie.