College Info

Welcome to the Orinda Aquatics College Planning Site

"I was contacted by someone who tracks NCAA athletes and pairs them with companies who are looking for graduated athletes. I don't think I've ever appreciated my past as a swimmer so much! Companies are looking to hire disciplined, dedicated, goal-setting, and passionate people who know how to manage their time. Athletes fit the mold perfectly, and I think programs like Orinda Aquatics really build up the character of not only an athlete but a well-rounded individual."   Thanks so much, Katie Ure


Coaches Introductory Letter


The coaching staff of Orinda Aquatics could not be more proud of the tremendous academic history of

our athletes.  Not only have they embraced character as a dominant theme in their lives,

but academics as well.  They are true leaders as student-athletes and role models as individuals.

Our swimmers have not only committed themselves to academics at the highest level, but they

have achieved this while remaining dedicated and successful year-round athletes.  It has been our

ultimate goal that our graduating swimmers not only continue to be athletes at the collegiate

level, but that they love the sport of swimming, continue to improve, become leaders on their collegiate

teams, and are ultimately better people. What OA graduates have accomplished speaks for itself. For

example, of the nineteen seniors graduating in the Class of 2010, 16 will be intercollegiate athletes, and they

had an average GPA of 3.8.  That is truly impressive and would certainly rival any club program in the

nation. And our swimmers have unquestionably made an impact in terms of character and leadership

at the collegiate level.  We are very proud of all of them.  



Because so many of our swimmers have enjoyed their experience at Orinda Aquatics, they want to

continue to enjoy the competition, discipline, and the camaraderie at the college level.  Swimming in

college is possible for everyone as there are literally thousands of collegiate swimmers with

varying levels of competition and commitment. No matter what level of swimmer you are, there is a

potential collegiate program that can be an excellent fit for you. The key is finding a program that

meets your own academic, athletic, and personal objectives. While swimming in college does require a

serious commitment of time, often collegiate swimmers perform better academically than their peers,

because of the personal discipline and time management skills.


Our goal for this section of our website is to assist you throughout the process, year by year, as a

student and as an athlete. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but if you break it down into

steps, parents  and swimmers can actually enjoy the process. Each year, swimmers come to us

and are unsure where to begin. This may even occur as late as September of their senior year. While

starting late does not mean that you won’t find a great program that “fits”, it is a lot less stressful

and more viable options may be available if you start the process early. The key to success is to first

define for yourself an academic, athletic, and personal profile: Who are you and what are you looking

for.  Like building a puzzle, begin with the corners, and then the borders, and gradually and methodically

work your way into the final piece of the puzzle.  We hope that this information will assist you in

narrowing down the search and provide you with answers to many of the questions you may have

along the way.


Again, as a part of the OA philosophy and long-term process, finding the right college and swim program

go hand in hand with the time you have committed as an Orinda Aquatics swimmer.  We wish all of you

the very best on this journey and know that we will be with you every step of the way.  In conclusion,

we would like to sincerely thank Margot Woodward for taking on this project and creating an information

source and a path that will assist every Orinda Aquatics swimmer in fulfilling their academic and athletic dreams. 


    Ronnie and Donnie   



Letters from OA College Swimmers and College Coaches:


Please see below: A few college coach emails, swimmer emails, essays, and the recent article...

Lamorinda Weekly Article, April 2, 2008, By Jennifer Wake( The Swimming Path to College)



Comment from Pomona Coach

I am new to California and the California swimming scene, but last year I had the opportunity to recruit a number of athletes from your club team.  You have an impressive tradition and all of the swimmers from your club that I have met have been wonderful people as well as excellent swimmers.  
Thanks again, Dr. Josh White,Head Swimming Coach Pomona-Pitzer



Santa Barbara Head Coach, Greg Wilson: 

"There is always one thing for certain when you get an Orinda Aquatic swimmer, the swimmers are technically sound in all four strokes, additionally they have great attitudes towards training and competing and they will give their team everything they have," said Coach Greg Wilson.

A portion of a letter from Graduating Senior Becky Penskar
  Now, as my senior year comes to a close and I look ahead to college where I am not participating in any organized form of swimming, I can see all that Orinda Aquatics and its coaches have given me.  It taught me the value of saying thank you, of humility and hard work, of commitment and respect, and of attitude and perseverance and patience. I know that sounds trite, because there have been countless letters before mine and there will be countless letters after mine that repeat the same cliché, but the lesson is never trite to those to experience it. Every time a senior says “I learned about work ethic” those words come from the heart. The gratitude that I feel for Ronnie and Donnie and for Matt and Dave and Mark is immeasurable and indefinable. What the coaches of Orinda Aquatics give to this organization is incredible. That they can change a shy 11 year old into a young woman who is thankful for the self-discipline that seven years of year round swimming teaches is a remarkable and indescribable achievement. Thank you, Ronnie, Donnie and everyone else, for making Orinda Aquatics an amazing experience.



  Local High School Excellence

Lamorinda Weekly Article, April 2, 2008
By Jennifer Wake



The Swimming Path to College


With an historic 3.2 million graduating high school seniors flooding college admissions offices this year, getting into college requires more than good grades or high SAT scores.  For some, entrance comes from academic diligence with the support of a collegiate coach. 


Ninety percent of Orinda Aquatics swimmers go on to compete in college at many different levels and at some of the finest institutions in the country.  But it is not easy.  It only comes after long hours, tireless dedication, and being part of an organization respected by college swim coaches.


Twin brothers Don and Ron Heidary started Orinda Aquatics more than 15 years ago to allow swimmers to develop to the national level and go on to college swimming. 


“In a time when it’s so competitive, if they do reasonably well in the sport and get good grades, they can get into highly regarded colleges,” said Ron, who is also the head swimming coach at Campolindo High School .  “I literally had kids tell me that counselors said they wouldn’t get into any of the UC’s or other list of schools based on grades, but they would get into many of them because of swimming.”

  “We had one kid who was a senior and brilliant, and applied to all the Ivy League schools, but he got wait-listed,” said Don, who is also the head coach at
Miramonte High School .  “It was devastating.  The interesting part of the story is that he did not go through a coach.  Having the support of a coach can tip it in your favor.”

  Since its beginning, Orinda Aquatics quickly made a name for itself.   The team currently has eight swimmers advancing to the 2008 Olympic trials, four 2007 USA Swimming National qualifiers, three 2007 SC National Qualifiers, five 2007 Junior National Qualifiers, and eight 2007 USA Swimming Scholastic All-Americans. 



  “We had national success early on,” Don said.  “We are college focused, and tell our kids that attitude is your option.  You choose – but if you choose negative, you go somewhere else.”


Orinda Aquatic swimmers regularly are accepted to premier colleges and universities including Princeton, UCLA, Stanford, NYU, Notre Dame, Tufts, and Duke University



Campolindo senior Haley Strausser was recruited to Brown University and Campo senior Nate Erickson had offers from all three military academies, and will start at the United States Air Force Academy this fall. 



Orinda Aquatics alumni Scott Lathrope was recruited by Stanford two years ago and is a 2008 Olympic Trial Qualifier in the 400 meter IM and 200 meter Butterfly.  “Swimming year round made me focus on academics, as well as disciplining myself,” he said.  “I had to decide not to hang out as much with my friends because I knew I had to get the work done.  People come [to Orinda Aquatics] because they love swimming.  The coaches just beat it into your head the balance of academics and swimming.”


Miramonte senior Kendall Weikert, who was recruited into Dartmouth ’s swimming program (and was one of the eight 2007 OA team Scholastic All-Americans), says that her involvement in Orinda Aquatics helped her find a balance between athletics and academics.



“You have to prioritize in a shorter period of time,” she said.  “You’re part of a group of teens who are making the right choices.  It’s a really positive environment.  Our team is known nationwide and other coaches have seen swimmers from our team.”


Ron describes OA as a “safe comfortable place where they don’t have to worry about peer pressure and they can be who they are.”


“They support each other,” he said.  “They’re academically oriented and are proud of it and respect each other for that.  It’s required that they have to make certain social sacrifices.  If they can’t make the sacrifices, they shouldn’t be here.”


Although Orinda Aquatics swimmers have done well nationally, Don says they value somebody becoming a team captain as much as going to the Olympic trials.  And the training begins early. 


Matt Ehrenberger has coached Orinda Aquatics swimmers between the ages of 10 and 12 for the past 20 years. 


“A lot of these kids come from rec programs, so I try to bring aspects of training and hard work together, and bring in the fun of rec swimming,” he said.  “These kids are motivated.  They get here and realize they love working hard and they say, ‘Hey!  I can do this!’”


“The coaching staff and people we work with have been with us since the program started,” Don said.  “They’re like family.  There’s no way we can have such a strong program without strong, like-minded coaches.  And the kids in our program are the best.  I can’t imagine any other team doing this with no discipline problems.”


“We’re big picture kind of guys,” he added.  “Character first is just a very loud emphatic message: out of that comes discipline, responsibility, respect.  It makes you a better athlete; it makes you a better person.”


Ron wishes there were more organizations like Orinda Aquatics. 


“Teens want to be better people,” he said.  “If you do the right thing and be the best person you can be, it’s a life issue versus a swimming issue.  You’re a human being a lot longer than a swimmer.”

 Hey Ron and Don,

The swim season just came to an end this past weekend for me. I was
bothered by a groin injury for most of the dual meet season but I
managed to have some solid swims going 25.7 (br split), 58.2 , 2:07.4,
and 2:01.1 (2 IM). After 6 months of training, our coach put me on one
of the longest tapers I've ever had. By the last week of taper, I
think I was doing about 1500 yards a day and I felt pretty good.

At Ivies, I went best times in all of my events: 1:53.15 (200 IM),
56.2 (100 br), and 2:02.71 (200 br). Although they were pretty big
drops for me, I scored less points than last year partly b/c of a very
talented freshman class. This league has remarkably gotten a lot
quicker depth-wise since my freshman year.

The results are at:

Also, you guys can watch my races online at:
( Prelims 200 IM, 2nd from bottom)
(Prelims 100 br, 2nd from bottom)
(B Final 200 br, 2nd from top)

Good luck this hs season,



We haven’t talked in a while so I wanted to say hi. I am back here at
Denison. This is our second week of school and it is going really well so
far. I think that my list of classes is the best I’ve had yet. I am taking
Psychology of Sport, History of Modern Europe, History of Economic Thought,
and Public Speaking. So hopefully this can be my best semester yet as far as
grades go.

Before I got here to school on the 24th I was traveling for a bit because
Meadow had finished. I went to Northeastern Canada for a week with the Men’s
and Women’s Junior Class Swim team for a gathering at a house on a lake that
one of them own. We went boating a lot and simply enjoyed the peacefulness
of no people around besides us. After that I flew to Albuquerque to visit
Savannah for her 21st birthday for a couple of days. It was beautiful
weather and just another very relaxing trip. We did a lot of hiking and good
eating. From there I went home for a couple of days and then flew out here
to school.

I have been getting to know our new Freshman swimmers. It is a very good
group of guys and girls who are going to do many great things. I am very
excited. Swim season starts on the 1st of October. Right now I have been
swimming everyday and lifting twice a week so that I can hopefully get a
major head start on the season. I have never been so excited for a swim
season before. I am hoping to be the backstroker on the 200 and 400 medley
and also a leg on the 200 and 400 free relay. We’ll see what happens.

How have things been with you? Is OA and everyone doing well?

I don’t think that I told you, but I went to hang out on Merril Lynch’s Bond
floor in San Francisco one day and another day I spent on the Stock trading
floor at a little firm run by Scott Kavolik called Baypoint Traders. I
really liked the stock floor so I am hoping that next summer I can get an
internship at some firm that does that.

I don’t know what else has really been going on in my life besides that. I
will only be home for 8 days this year for Christmas break so maybe we can
get together sometime.

I hope that everything is going well for you and that OA has another
successful season this fall and winter. I’ll track it online. Have a great
one Donnie!


Hey Donnie,
We just got back from Georgia yesterday and I thought that you might like an update. We rested for only a week, but there were some good times. In the 200 free I went 1:44 and in the 100 I went 48.03. I was dissapointed that I didn’t go 47 in the free, but I split a 47.13 on the 400 free relay. Dave was impressed with that, and how I could step up for a relay. I feel that I still have a lot of improvement to make in my stroke, as well as my physical strength. I believe, as well as the coaches do, that I can be a lot faster. Tyler did really really well. He went 56 in the 100 breast and 2:03. He made finals in both, which was great, especially for a freshman.


Hi Donnie,

We just had a "scrimmage" against Toronto last night after two
practices. I swam a two lifetime bests. I went 26.6 in 50 br in the
freshman medley, 59.18 in the 100 br and 2:10.6 in the 200 br. I got
second in both events, but  I went out a little too fast in the 200,
which I should have won (most of guys swam off events). Jim was
really impressed with my times, and I think I landed a secure spot
on the travel team. We have 4 away meets against Dartmouth, Yale,
Harvard, and Fordham in the next three weeks, so it should be an
exciting month.


Hi Donnie and Ronnie!

How is everything at OA, and how are the new freshman adjusting to highschool? I hope it’s all going well and that this season looks quite promising for the team. I thought I would send you guys an email about life here in good old Northfield, MN.
First off, I absolutely love it; although, I do miss California weather. I’m taking French, Calc 2, and African Life Histories. Each class is very challenging. Since our terms are only ten weeks, professors have to jam all the work together. This means that I spend a lot of time reading books and hours doing problem sets for calculus every night. Nonetheless, I really enjoy my classes. I’m so happy that I know my professors, and I feel comfortable meeting with them after class to answer questions. All of my classes are really small (my french class is only 12 people), so each person gets quite a bit of personal attention. I love the people here: they’re truly remarkable and unique. Oh and my roommates are awesome, one is from Michigan and the other is from I’m starting to acquire a Minnesota accent!!
Swimming started basically the first week I was here with Captains’ Practices. Those were lots of fun, plenty of running, kickball, and a little swimming. I was a HUGE fan of running to Northfield’s Dairy Queen and running back...The real season started October 1st!! It is so great, and I feel like I’m finally getting in really good shape. It’s amazing, Ronnie, right?!!! I lift Monday and Friday mornings, and I swim Wednesday mornings and every afternoon. We’ve had three "meets"- the Alumni Meet and the Aquapentathalon, but our first intersquad meet was this weekend (Carleton and St.Olaf Relay Invite). The whole conference came, so it was fun to swim against other teams. There are six other freshman breastrokers, and I might start swimming backstroke. The team is very tight-knit, and I feel so motivated during practice. Andy Clark and Brooke Larsen (my coaches) are awesome; I really enjoy swimming for them!
I’m excited to come back and train with OA during winter break. I’m looking forward to Friday team practices and 9 SCAT 50s.. :)
Hope all is well. Let me know how this fall has been for the team...


Hi Dave and Donnie ~
A bit of an update on Jesse ~  if you go to the Duke Athletic Web site: and view the changing headlines, there are four... the fourth is a picture of our California Dukie.
He is representing Duke Athletics and the swim team and going into the inner city teaching kids how to read as part of a big initiative by Duke to get the athletes immersed in community service and the Durham community. 
If you click on his name and view his swim profile the info is old unfortunately but he is doing well swimming, still having fun, loves the coach and academically working is butt off... it’s tough.
Take care!

Ron and Don-

I can’t even remember the last time I touched base with you guys, but I wanted to bring you up to speed on my life.  I’m not sure how much of this you already knew, so forgive me if you already have heard some of this.  Midway through my junior year at Emory I decided I wanted to go down the pre-med road, so I started taking the appropriate classes that summer and into my senior year.  I know that I mentioned my growing shoulder problems when I was home training that winter break (would have been x-mas break 2004).  Well they only got worse...and I had a frustrating and terrible swim season my last year.  I was nominated for the NCAA post-graduate scholarship and made it to the national finals for that, but didn’t get selected in the end (my guess is because i didn’t make NCAA’s that last year).  After I graduated, I continued to take more pre-med courses and began working in a lab part time, volunteering at Emory Hospital, and studying for the MCAT.  I continued to swim just to stay in shape because i love it so much, but my left shoulder began to spontaneously sublax and was causing me lots of problems in everyday tasks too. So, I had it surgically fixed in May 2006, and it’s now about 99% better.  Unfortunately, I’ve begun to develop the same problem in my right one, and actually dislocated that one this October and will be having the same operation on December 14th.  I’m still working in the same lab, and participating in the volunteer program at the hospital.  The lab work is basic research on epilepsy.  We are trying to find new molecules to use to treat/prevent seizures in kids and adults.  In the hospital, I volunteer in the emergency department 8 hours a week where most of my time is spent streamlining patient care (doing MD busy work so they can see more patients) and talking to patients (histories, comfort measures, etc).  I’ve learned an incredible amount of information about medicine, and met some really amazing people (physicians and patients), and heard some really inspiring stories.

   I also started all my medical school applications in July and have written essay after essay like you wouldn’t believe (I applied to 22 schools).  At almost every school, there is a question that asks you to talk about challenges in your life, or experiences that have impacted you during you development or something of that nature.  I wrote about my competitive swimming experience almost every time.  Not about times, or awards, but about lessons learned and friends made through trial and fire.  I feel so fortunate to have had two swim coaches who always emphasized what’s most important: dedication, respect, and team.  I recently looked through an OA/MHS swimming photo album and was reminded of everything my teammates and I accomplished, but looking back now, I realize we also learned about what the phrases hard work, dedication, respect, and team sacrifice really mean.  Developing those intangibles as an OA swimmer that are applicable to almost any life situation are what I write about in my essays, and what I’m most proud of.  I think they are a big part of my success at Emory, and why I’ve already received 7 interview offers and 1 acceptance at medical schools for the fall of 2007 entering class.  So, thank you for the strength you’ve help instill in me to pursue a medical career. 

I hope you are both well.  Ron, a belated congratulations on your wedding.  I know the team grows bigger and better by the day, but I know OA will always be a place where develop as swimmers and more importantly, as people.  I keep in touch with a few of the guys i swam with a little (justin, quinn, scott, etc) but I should do a better job.  Take care, and if there is anyone back from break who would still remember me...tell them hello.  If you get the chance, I’d love to hear how everything is going.  Maybe I’ll try to stop by a practice over winter break while I’m recovering from surgery.

Dave Black



Hi Donnie -

I just thought I would touch base since it’s been a while since we’ve talked. I hope you had a great thanksgiving! My parents came out east this year for the holiday and I had a nice break from my rigorous schedule. Swimming is going well; the team is tapering for the Army/Navy meet which is this Thursday night...hopefully we will win and keep the 15 year BEAT ARMY streak alive. I have been working on my stroke a lot and I think it is definitely better than last year but I have a lot more to work on (I am starting to feel much faster in my races which is a good sign). The team overall is doing great - our freshman this year are doing more than their share to carry the team. Our seniors just received word on their service selection assignments and they all received their first choice. We had three guys selected for SEALs and two for Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), which speaks very highly of our program (about twenty midshipman for each assignment are chosen from the grad!
ting class). The two guys who graduated from the swim team last year with the class of 2005 that went to BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition school - SEAL training) in Coronado are both doing extremely well and are ranked at the top of their BUD/s classes - I guess swimming is a good gateway to becoming a Navy SEAL.

On another note, school is also going well. I am applying to go to the French Naval Academy or French Military Academy for a semester next year which should prove to be an adventure if I am fortunate enough to be accepted. My mom showed me the Thanksgiving workout and it made me miss my days with OA. I will see Zach and Sylvia this week at our swim meet and then at the Army/Navy football game on Saturday so it will be nice to see some old faces from Orinda. How is everything with the program? I have been extremely busy and have not kept up with as many people as I would like to, although I spoke with Tyler Angelo the other night and he seems really happy to be at Notre Dame. Anyways, I hope all is well and I will see you in December.


Joe Unruh