2016 Girls Swimmer of the Year: Funkhouser makes history

Central sophomore Ashley Funkhouser, the Northern Virginia Daily's 2016 Girls Swimmer of the Year, won a state championship in the 50-yard freestyle this past season. It was the first state swimming championship in the school's history. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Sitting on the first row of a set of metal bleachers overlooking the pool inside the Signal Knob Recreation Center 10 days after winning a Group 2A state swim title in the 50-yard freestyle, Ashley Funkhouser pondered the question, one she’s likely been asked a dozen times since returning from the state meet on Feb. 21. Had she realized the magnitude of everything she accomplished during the 2015-16 season?

“I don’t think so,” she said with a laugh. “It’s all very exciting, like I said before. But honestly I still don’t think I know exactly what it means.”

Funkhouser’s state swim title, the first in Central High School’s history, capped a whirlwind sophomore season that saw her break records and make history. She admits it all caught her a little off guard.

In just her second high school swim season, Funkhouser, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016 Girls Swimmer of the Year, now owns five school records. She set the Falcons’ top marks in the 50 free (25.50 seconds), 100 free (56.34), 200 free (2:13.66), 100 fly (1:06.60) and 200 individual medley (2:26.65) this winter, times that also topped the area girls swimming leader board. She re-broke two of her own school records – the 50 and 100 free – at the state meet, where she earned a total of four all-state medals, including two as part of the Falcons’ 200 free and 400 free relay teams.

And, of course, there was the state championship, the first from any swimmer – boy or girl – from the three Shenandoah County public high schools.

Central's Ashley Funkhouser broke five school records during her sophomore season this past winter. Rich Cooley/Daily

“There have been a lot of great swimmers that came before her and they weren’t able to do it,” Central swim coach Steve Shaffer said. “And she’s breaking the records of those great swimmers.”

For most of the season, the idea that Funkhouser could become the county’s first state champion never crossed her mind. Her sophomore year began with one goal – to break the school record in the 100 free, a feat she had nearly accomplished at the state meet as a freshman the season before. Her drive to achieve that goal in the pool spilled over into her other events.

It wasn’t until the Region 2A East meet at Wakefield High School in Arlington on Feb. 13 that Funkhouser began to realize she had a legitimate shot at a state crown. She didn’t swim the 50 free in the regional event, choosing instead to focus on the 100 free (second place) and 200 IM (fourth) in addition to Central’s two freestyle relays, but a glance at her times cultivated thoughts of a state title. She recalled Shaffer telling her at the regional meet, “I think you can do this.”

“That’s when I was starting to comprehend that maybe I could do it,” Funkhouser said, “but I don’t think I was able to actually understand that it would be possible until that race.”

With a busy day ahead of her at the state meet in Christiansburg on Feb. 21, Funkhouser posted the top time in the 50 free prelims that morning, earning her the top seed in the finals later that evening and a chance to pick the song to which all of the other 50 free competitors would walk out, prior to the start of the championship race. She would eventually settle on “Work” by Rihanna, a team favorite.

Before that, though, Funkhouser locked up a spot in the finals of the 100 free preliminaries, then helped the Falcons’ 200 free and 400 free relays do the same.

“Ashley went in, not only swam her two events but then swam her heart out in the two relays for her teammates,” Shaffer said. “Then we had the brief rest and then we came back in the evening and had to do it all again.”

By the time the Falcons reached the Christiansburg mall during the break between the preliminaries and the finals, Funkhouser was exhausted. She recalled questioning how she was going to be able to muster the energy to be competitive with a championship on the line. Somehow, she said, “I was able to go back.”

The 50 free was her first championship event.

“During warmups I was feeling very tired,” Funkhouser said. “I was trying to tell myself, ‘This is what you’re going for. You’re going for first. You already get to walk out to the song, just show them what you’ve got.’ I just wanted to get first. That was a huge deal to me.”

Funkhouser (25.50) beat Radford’s Grace Wohlford by four-hundredths of a second.

After climbing out of the pool, Funkhouser walked by her mother, Dawn, who served as a volunteer official during the meet. Her mother’s position prohibited her from showing any sort of bias during the meet, but Funkhouser did receive a wide grin before her mother whispered, “You just won a state title.”

“I couldn’t stop smiling at that point,” the younger Funkhouser recalled. “It was incredible.”

Funkhouser went on to place third in the 100 free (56.57) before anchoring the 200 free relay (sixth, 1:54.27) and 400 free relay (seventh, 4:23.51).

“If I could go back to that day every day I would,” she said.

Funkhouser’s dedication to pushing through her exhaustion for her relay teammates at the state meet was part of a broader theme of unselfishness that has drawn praise from Shaffer all season long.

At the Shenandoah County meet in early February, Funkhouser chose to forgo her two best events – the 50 and 100 free – to offer her services in some of the tougher races. At the regional meet, Funkhouser’s willingness to sit out the 50 free opened the door for freshman Casey Wenn, who seized the 10th and final state-qualifying spot in that same event. Had Funkhouser competed, Wenn likely would’ve missed out on the state meet by one spot.

“My parents have taught me a lot of that, along with my coaches. They have taught me that it’s important to be a team,” Funkhouser said. “It’s important to not only focus on what’s important to you but what’s important to others.”

That’s why, even after all of her individual success this season, Funkhouser’s future goals remain team-oriented. She wants to break the school relay records with her teammates, and she wants Central to win a state swimming championship as a team.

“You can be an individual and have success,” Shaffer said, “but Ashley, probably more than any other athlete I’ve coached over the years, is really tuned into the team aspect of swimming. Yes she’s had great success but it’s the team that she keeps referring to and it’s the team that gives her the energy that she feeds from, and then also, consequently, gives back to.”

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