Heiny was a swimming genius
Published 9:11 am Thursday, August 5, 2021
By Brian Pitts
Sixth in a series on Davie’s all-time individual state champions.
In 1996, Davie swimmer Mike Heiny earned three gold medals in the conference meet, another in the regional and yet another in the state meet.
Heiny’s barrage during the 1995-96 season was all the more amazing considering this was his – pause for emphasis – freshman year.
Nobody from Davie swam the way Heiny did – not before and not since. He won two 4-A state championships during his career, putting him in robust company. The other War Eagles to win multiple state titles are Scotty Spry (three in wrestling), Neil Cornatzer (two in wrestling), Michael Waters (two in wrestling) and Anna McBride (three in track).
Heiny stands alone as the only War Eagle to claim first in the state as a freshman.
Heiny grew up in Poway, Ca., near San Diego. At age 10, he was swimming the 100 backstroke in one minute, eight seconds. His family moved to Advance when he was 12.
The 1995-96 season was the Davie swim program’s fourth year of existence. Tim Rambo was a first-year coach who witnessed the birth of a legend.
In the South Carolina Senior State Championships, a three-day event, Heiny competed in seven events – the mile (16:10), the 200 free (1:50.45), the 400 individual medley (4:19.97), the 100 backstroke (57.4), the 1000 free (9:45.98), the 200 back (2:00) and the 500 free (4:47). He made the Junior National cut in the mile.
“He is a tremendous swimmer,” Rambo said then. “He has great technique. He is excellent for his age. He is an excellent swimmer – period. Mike is extremely dedicated.”
Heiny worked tirelessly at his craft, driving to Winston-Salem every weekday morning for a practice session that ran from 4:30-7. After school, he headed back to Winston. On top of that, he was an A student.
South Rowan hosted the Central Piedmont Conference championship meet. That’s where the legend was born. Heiny won the 500 free and 100 back. Heiny, Ryan Powell, William Johnson and Lucas Lamonds won the 400 free relay. And Heiny took the league’s swimmer-of-the-year award.
After the War Eagles finished third in the CPC behind West Forsyth and Mt. Tabor, they charged to fifth out of 28 teams in the West Regional in Charlotte. Heiny captured the 500 free, placed second in the 100 back and helped Brad Clark, Lamonds and Powell take second in the 400 relay.
The freshman phenom made Davie history in the state meet in Chapel Hill. Heiny won the 500 free (4:42.99) and finished fifth in the 100 back. For perspective, his 500 time would have won the 4-A title in 1999; would have won the 1-A/2-A/3-A title in 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2001; would have won the 3-A title in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008; and would have won the 1-A/2-A title from 2002-12 and in 2014 and 2015.
“I was pretty excited,” Heiny said. “I was not expecting to do that well in the 500. There was pretty strong competition.”
It was a superb showing for Davie as a team. It placed ninth – tying league-rival West Forsyth – out of 51 schools.
Brad Clark, a fantastic freshman, was 10th in the 100 IM. Powell was 10th in the 100 free. Heiny, Lamonds, Powell and Clark were ninth in the 400 free relay.
Powell said: “With everybody coming back, we should win the conference next year. And we could possibly finish in the top five (in the state).”
Rambo: “It was a great way for the guys to end the season. They got rewarded for hard work.”
The 1996-97 season was a golden one for the Davie boys, who had a new coach in David Rondestvedt. The nationally-ranked Heiny missed the first meet of the season because he was competing in Texas, but he was back in time to help the War Eagles defeat West Forsyth for the first time in history.
Rondestvedt only had nine male swimmers, but most of the ones he had were formidable.
In the CPC meet at Winston-Salem State, Davie claimed second with 83 points, 11 behind the Titans. Heiny won the 500 free (4:59.89) and the 100 back (58.36). Clark won the 200 (2:09.7), and Powell won the 50 free (23.15). Heiny repeated as CPC Swimmer of the Year.
“He deserved the honor for sure,” Rondestvedt said. “He’s the only swimmer in the conference that I know of who hasn’t lost a race. He’s awesome.”
In the West Regional at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center, Davie made its presence known with a fifth-place finish and 159 points. Providence (304), North Meck (284), Myers Park (187) and East Meck (181) were the only teams to outscore Davie, which beat West Forsyth by 31.
“We beat West, Page, Grimsley, West Charlotte, Mt. Tabor,” Rondestvedt said. “The teams that beat us, we can’t compete with them, not with the amount of swimmers we have.”
Heiny was second in the 500 free (4:39.21) and the 100 back (54.07). Powell was third in the 50 free (22.76) and fifth in the 100 free (51.15). Needless to say, Heiny was less than pleased with his showing.
“He had to do a bunch of swimming the night before at the Winston-Salem YMCA, so he was a little tired,” Rondestvedt said.
Heiny’s slump – by his standards – carried over to the state meet in Charlotte, where he placed third in the 500 (4:45.52) and fifth in the 100 back (55.30).
“Heiny was way off his pace in the 500 free, which was too bad,” Rondestvedt said.
A year later, glory would return for the Davie superstar.
For new coach Ben Allred in 1997-98, it was a joyful thing to inherit a team with massive talents like Heiny and Clark.
“It’s just awesome watching those two swim,” he said of the juniors. “They are just incredible. I’ve just never seen anybody swim like that.”
The duo swam laps in the mornings at the Winston-Salem Lake YMCA. They would do the same thing after school.
“We are probably swimming 3,000-3,500 yards a day, and they’re probably swimming 15,000 a day,” Allred said. “That’s a lot. I couldn’t do it.”
Even though the War Eagle boys only had seven swimmers, they finished third in the CPC meet at Winston-Salem State. Davie (55) trailed West (96) and Reynolds (85).
“I was real proud,” Allred said. “That’s really good considering the number of guys.”
Clark won the 200 IM in 2:10.19, or 10 seconds better than the runner-up, and the 100 butterfly in 58.66. Heiny captured the 100 back (56.46) and the 500 (4:50.6), winning the latter by a whopping 19 seconds. Heiny, Clark, Mike Gusefski and Jeff Frisby placed second in the 200 medley relay (1:52.81) as Heiny earned CPC Swimmer of the Year for the third time.
Heiny swept first in the 500 free and 100 back in the regional in Hillsborough, and the ninth-place War Eagles topped Tabor and West Forsyth.
“It was a great showing,” Allred said.
In the state meet at UNC, Heiny became the state’s finest in the 500 free for the second time, turning in a season-best 4:43.74 and beating the runner-up from Providence by nearly three seconds. He was third in the 100 back (54.64), and Clark was 12th in the 200 IM.
Heiny entered his 1998-99 senior year holding or sharing program records in the 200 free, 200 IM, 500 free and 100 back. Clark was the record-holder in the 100 breaststroke at 1:05.41.
In the CPC championship meet, the spotlight belonged to Clark, whose magnificent performance earned him co-swimmer of the year with West Forsyth’s Brad Willard. Clark won the 50 free (23.3) and the 100 breast (1:07.61).
“He had one of his fastest times ever in the 50 free and almost pulled us out a win in the 200 relay,” Allred said. “He swam a 22.26 split, which is unheard-of.”
Heiny was the victim of a major upset in the 500 – Reynolds’ Ryan Cooper dealt Heiny his first ever CPC loss in that event – but he still racked up league titles in the 200 IM and 100 back.
In the Midwest Regional in Hillsborough, Heiny erased the bitter memory against Cooper, winning the 500 free as well as the 100 back.
Now Heiny was a three-time regional champ in the 500 and a two-timer in the 100 back.
“Mike was ahead by three seconds every lap,” Allred said. “Mike said he was going to take care of (Cooper).”
In the state meet, Heiny finished fifth in the 100 back and sixth in the 500 free. Clark produced his best-ever time in the 50 free (22.59), but it was only good for ninth against fierce competition.
“Mike went straight from the 500 into the 200 relay and he was dead in the 100 back,” Allred said. “Compared to what he’s had in the past, these weren’t his best times.”
So it wasn’t a Disney ending for Heiny, who failed to grab a third state title. But that did not diminish a spectacular career. He was a swimming genius who finished in the top five in the state in the 100 back all four years and in the top six in the state in the 500 free all four years.