Coach Sarah Rasmussen talks to swimmers during a practice of the Deering/Portland swimming team at the Reiche School pool on Thursday. The pool, which reopened Thursday after a 10-day closure, has no starting blocks for swimmers. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

After three unusual winters of high school swimming, Caden Hemond looked forward to a semblance of normality his senior year at Portland High.

The coronavirus pandemic had wiped out his freshman season. Next came a hybrid season, with face masks required on pool decks and a state meet cancellation for a second straight year. As a junior, debris spurting from air ducts at the Riverton Pool last January led to its midseason closure for nearly a month.

“It’s just been one thing after another,” said Hemond, a captain of the Deering/Portland cooperative team. “I haven’t had a single season that’s been normal.”

And this year?

Well, normal is boring, right?

With the Riverton Pool in North Deering still closed because of structural issues and the Reiche Pool in Portland’s West End dealing with a pump failure, the RamDogs (as the team is known) have been forced to host their meets in Sanford.


Portland High junior Kaia West works on her backstroke during a practice of the Deering/Portland swimming team at the Reiche School pool on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Last week they began squeezing in a few hours of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at the Portland YMCA, using half of Malcolm Pool’s six lanes. The other lanes were used by either YMCA members or the Cheverus swim team.

“I think it makes us better, honestly,” Hemond said. “We take advantage of our practice time because we really don’t know when we’re going to get another one. We work really hard.”

The RamDogs host Freeport on Friday night, once again at the Sanford-Springvale YMCA, necessitating a 45-minute bus ride for the home team. In last Friday’s season opener, against city rival Cheverus, the Deering/Portland teams prevailed in both girls’ and boys’ meets, even though some of their swimmers were using starting blocks for the first time.

The Reiche Pool, which reopened Thursday after a 10-day closure, has no starting blocks, unlike at both Riverton and the Portland Y.

“That’s especially hard at the beginning of the season,” said Anica Spencer, a Portland High junior. “Some swimmers at the meet on Friday had never practiced a dive before, which is unfortunate because it really sets you up for a good race.”

Portland High junior Anica Spencer works on her butterfly during practice Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

To be sure, Deering/Portland isn’t the only program in Southern Maine dealing with pool availability logistics. South Portland has been taking a bus to Cumberland for practice at Greely High’s pool because roof repair work in South Portland has yet to be completed. Yarmouth and Falmouth recently moved back to the Casco Bay YMCA for practice, although Yarmouth also still practices and hosts meets at Greely. Freeport continues to practice at Bowdoin College, and Scarborough at Cape Elizabeth.


Even so, the RamDogs seem to have encountered the highest hurdles.

“It obviously requires a lot of flexibility for everyone involved,” said Sarah Rasmussen, the team’s head coach. “Luckily we have swimmers and parents who are amazing at responding well to whatever situation we have. We appreciate that (Deering Athletic Director Michael Daly) has also worked incredibly hard to find us all the pool time he could.”

Last week’s in-water practice time amounted to two hours Wednesday afternoon at the Y. When no pool is available, the team does dryland training at Deering High. Practices have been conducted at night, before school, or early afternoon.

Deering junior Anya Heiden swims freestyles laps at the Reiche School pool during practice for the Deering/Portland swim team on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We’re excited when we do get time in the water,” said Deering junior Anya Heiden. “I think we’ll be successful no matter what we have access to, but how successful can we be when we’re only able to get in the water a couple hours a week?”

Prior to the pandemic, Portland and Deering fielded separate teams. Now they compete as a combined entity that also includes students from Casco Bay High and Baxter Academy. Mixing athletes from four schools and four grades in chlorinated water turns out to be a fairly successful recipe.

Last February, despite the Riverton closure, the RamDogs finished eighth of 19 programs in the Class A boys’ state meet and ninth of 21 in the Class A girls’ state meet. Both teams have their sights set higher this winter.

“The dynamic of the team has always been so good and so close,” said Portland High junior Kaia West, also a captain. “We’re not seeing everyone in school all the time, so it makes us really happy to see each other, happy to bond with each other at meets and (practices).”

West, who rows crew with Waynflete in the spring, said the cooperative aspect means everyone pulls together. There’s none of the “Portland’s better” or “Deering’s better” animosity that might occur in other sports.

As for RamDogs, “we used to think that name was kind of cheesy,” she said, “but we’ve leaned into it so much. I’m really proud of my team. They’ve had great resolve through all of this. We can still dominate, even if we don’t have a pool.”

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