Hershey rises to leadership role for Rams’ swim team

Nathan Hershey

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School swimming coach InaRae Crisman says many boys in the school are held back from joining the swim program because they are uncomfortable with the thought of wearing the appropriate racing swimsuits. Nathan Hershey was one of those kids.

Long a football player, Hershey was frequently encouraged by his father to participate in swimming as a means of staying in shape during the offseason. Hershey, who had always assumed (incorrectly, it turns out) that swimmers were required to wear the bikini-style suits prevalent in the sport’s upper tiers, fought against the idea for quite a while.

“Eventually I was just like, ‘You know what, let’s try it,’ and then fell in love with it,” Hershey, now a senior at Strasburg, said Wednesday afternoon. “I actually quit football to focus more on swim.”

Hershey’s decision to finally dip his toe into swimming came about five years ago. He gave up football, a sport he’d played since first grade, following his freshman season with the Rams in 2013. Since then, as a member of Strasburg’s boys swim team, he has qualified for the Group 2A state meet in the 200-yard freestyle as a sophomore during the 2014-15 season and as a member of the Rams’ 200 free, 400 free and 200 medley relays in each of the past two seasons.

Last winter Hershey swam the middle legs of the freestyle relays and earned all-state medals in both events, as the Rams placed fifth in the 200 free (1:38.34) and eighth in the 400 free (3:49.54) at the 2A meet in Christiansburg. He also swam the backstroke in the 200 medley relay, an event in which Strasburg took home a third-place medal at the Region 2A East championships.

Hershey’s role figures to dramatically change this season, however. With the graduation of longtime teammates Christian Neff, Evan Davis, Riley Daugherty and Brian Scholten, as well as foreign exchange student Pascal Bruder, Hershey has suddenly gone from a contributor to the main cog within the Rams’ relay teams for the upcoming winter season.

Hershey is the only returnee who regularly competed last season in each of the three relays, events in which he said the Rams were successful due to their chemistry in the pool.

“It’s challenging because I’m not used to the guys out there,” Hershey said of this year’s relay teams. “… I’m used to my buddies. It’s definitely gonna be challenging but I’m up to it.

“I’m excited to hopefully be out there and be the reason why we’re so successful.”

Hershey’s swimming experience, Crisman said, will result in a lineup switch for the senior within the two freestyle relays this season.

“I either see him as a leadoff person or an anchor person, someone’s who’s gonna finish it and bring it home,” Crisman said of Hershey, who regularly swam the second leg in the 400 free and the third leg in the 200 free last year.

With only seven boys on the roster this season, one of Crisman’s biggest challenges may be finding a way to stretch those seven among three relay teams. Of those seven swimmers, four were members of the Rams’ program last season – including Hershey and fellow seniors Nathan McDonald and Logan Smalls and sophomore Kyle Rodrigue – and Crisman said those four could make up the new 200 medley relay team for the Rams.

In that case, Crisman said, McDonald will likely swim the butterfly, Smalls the breaststroke and Rodrigue – whom Crisman considers to be Strasburg’s fastest sprinter – the freestyle. That will leave Hershey to reprise his spot in the backstroke, although his role for the Rams will stretch well beyond his ability in the pool.

“He has to be able to go and take on that leadership role,” Crisman said, “so that’s what I’m expecting from him is to step up and be a leader not only to the other six male swimmers but to the team as a whole.”

In addition to the relays, Hershey said he plans on competing in the 100 backstroke this winter (he had the third-fastest time, 1:05.47, in that event last season among local swimmers), and he could occasionally participate in the 100 and 500 freestyle.

Hershey is hoping that his swimming career continues at the next level at Emory & Henry, a goal that has become more realistic after he received a timely text from Wasps head swim coach Cody Skinner earlier this year informing Hershey that the school would be offering men’s swimming for the first time next year and had recently added his prospective major, occupational therapy. Crisman said should Hershey swim in college, he would be the first boys swimmer from Strasburg to do so.

Before all of that, however, Hershey has his sights set on something else when his 2016-17 high school season begins with a home meet against Clarke County and William Monroe on Friday evening.

“One of my goals has always been that state title,” he said. “It’s always been a goal of mine.

“I just gotta work hard, not let anything distract me. And I’ve just gotta want it.”

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