Female Athlete of the Week: Funkhouser puts team goals first

Ashley Funkhouser

STRASBURG – The turning point of Ashley Funkhouser’s freshman swim season at Central High School last winter came in the annual Shenandoah County meet.

During that three-team event, Funkhouser was swimming a tight race in the 200 individual medley against Strasburg’s Cassie Cooper, and she fell short of a gold medal by a little more than one-tenth of a second. Funkhouser said Thursday before practice at Signal Knob Recreation Center it was that moment that “made me want to work harder.”

Her coach, Steve Shaffer, noticed.

“Since then she’s worked tirelessly to be the best she could be,” Shaffer said.

Funkhouser, the lone Central girl to qualify for the Group 3A state meet last season, entered her sophomore season as one of the Falcons’ top swimmers this winter. In this year’s edition of the Shenandoah County swim meet on Feb. 4, Funkhouser looked every bit the part.

Though Central’s girls came up five points short of defending their county title (Strasburg won the girls’ championship with 122 points), Funkhouser left the meet with four gold medals. Funkhouser, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for Feb. 1-7, took first place individually in the 100-yard butterfly and 200 IM, while also swimming legs of Central’s winning 200 free and 200 medley relay teams.

“It’s been a great opportunity,” Funkhouser said of her county meet exploits. “Really it’s all about the team. I’m happy I can do it for the team.”

Adhering to her team-first philosophy last week, Funkhouser actually surrendered her spot in arguably her strongest events – the 50 and 100 freestyle, two races which Falcons freshman Casey Wenn achieved gold medals in – at the Shenandoah County meet in order to offer her services in some of the tougher races.

Shaffer said Central’s young girls squad suffered from a couple “kid moments” that ultimately hindered the Falcons’ shot at the team title, but he praised Funkhouser – who swam the butterfly portion of the 200 medley relay and was the anchor of the 200 free relay – for contributing as much as she could for the good of the group.

“She’s just been a very consistent swimmer all year long and has become a team leader with her selfless attitude,” Shaffer said.

Funkhouser downplayed her leadership role for the Falcons, saying that the team as a whole shares a special connection where every girl supports her teammates in whatever way possible.

“We’re all here for each other and that’s what’s so great about this team,” Funkhouser said. “It’s like such a strong bond all the time. The girls and I, we have such a bond this year that it’s been not like any of the other teams I’ve ever been on.”

Funkhouser said she’s “super thrilled” to see how she and her teammates fare at the Region 1A/2A East meet at Wakefield High School in Arlington, a week ahead of the Group 1A/2A state meet in Christiansburg.

“I’m really hoping that we just go out and swim our best,” Funkhouser said. “I know the girls are gonna do it. Most of them are gonna make it to states, which is awesome. I believe in them and I think they’ll do great.”

Last year, Funkhouser was the lone Central girls swimmer in Christiansburg, where she failed to qualify for the finals in the 100 free but greatly valued the experience.

“I learned so much,” Funkhouser said. “Going into it I thought that it was going to be awesome, and it was awesome. I took away that there is so much more that could be happening right now, like I could be 10 seconds faster or whatever, so I was so happy I got to experience it.”

Shaffer said Funkhouser has already qualified for the state meet in four events, and she leads area swimmers in the 50 free (26.80 seconds), 100 free (58.75 seconds), 200 free (2:13.66), 100 fly (1:06.20) and 200 IM (2:31.56). Funkhouser holds Central records in the 50 and 200 free, the 200 IM and 100 fly, the latter of which she set at the Shenandoah County meet.

“That record was actually from 2003,” Shaffer said of the 100 fly. “It was a 13-year-old record, one of the oldest records we have.”

Shaffer added that he’s expecting Funkhouser’s next breakthrough to come at the state meet next weekend.

“It’s gonna be exciting. She really hasn’t tapped in to her full ability yet,” he said. “Even this year she continues to build on the success.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com