2018 Girls Swimmer of the Year: Central’s Funkhouser battled adversity in final high school season

Central's Ashley Funkhouser is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2018 Girls Swimmer of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Ashley Funkhouser established herself as the most accomplished high school swimmer to ever come out of Shenandoah County over the past three years, and certainly the Central senior had dreams of ending her high school career with a bang this winter. A setback in her physical health, however, limited just how loudly that bang would be.

A shoulder injury sidelined Funkhouser for three weeks in January, and though she returned in time for the postseason, she didn’t have enough time to return to full strength before the Virginia High School League Class 2 State Championships. Funkhouser still managed to earn all-state honors in four total events in Richmond, but her high school finale was a bit of a disappointment after winning three state titles over the previous two seasons.

“You want the greatest thing you do to be the last thing,” Falcons head coach Steve Shaffer said last week, “and that’s certainly what we were anticipating. But the fact that she didn’t do that does not take away from the career record of her. She’s still the greatest swimmer to come out of Shenandoah County and has set the bar high for all the swimmers.”

Funkhouser’s shoulder injury – she said the tendon “popped out of place” while playing water polo in practice around the first of January – was the most severe health issue during what turned out to be a senior season filled with adversity. Shaffer said Funkhouser, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2018 Girls Swimmer of the Year for the third year in a row, also suffered from fatigue early in the season before her injury, and when she returned in the postseason she had a bout with a respiratory illness that affected her breathing.

And yet, Shaffer said, Funkhouser went through the entire season with a smile on her face and knowing the importance of her role even when she wasn’t able to compete in the pool.

“I would say that by working through it I was able to realize that the team still supports you no matter if you win or you lose,” said Funkhouser, who added that the highlight of her season was being able to continue to build relationships with her teammates. “It’s about the team and just doing the best you can.”

As she worked back from her shoulder injury, Funkhouser said her practices each day were limited strictly to lower body exercise. She felt the effects when she returned to competition for the first time at the Bull Run District Championships.

“Personally, it was extremely disappointing because I expect so much out of myself,” Funkhouser said of her return to the pool. “I push myself pretty hard, I would say, but seeing my times not be where they were last year was pretty disappointing. But I had to remind myself that I took three weeks off and I had a little setback, so by reminding myself that, I was able to get back into the zone of the swim meet and still be able to swim.”

Funkhouser went on to place second in the 100-yard freestyle and fourth in the 50 free while helping the Falcons’ 200 free relay team to fifth place at the Region 2A/2B Championships.

Funkhouser, who won back-to-back 50 free state titles the past two seasons and won the 100 free championship while setting a new state meet record (54.28 seconds) in the event last year, said she didn’t alter her expectations much as she prepared for her final state appearance.

“My goals will always remain high no matter if I have setbacks or not, but I would say that I definitely had to rethink what the future was going to be as far as the state meet,” said Funkhouser, the school record holder in seven individual events. “Going into it I was thinking that maybe there was a slight chance that everything from the past would come back but unfortunately it did not. But it comes with training. I need to be stronger, and that’s what I’ve realized.”

Funkhouser placed fifth in the 50 free (25.41) and sixth in the 100 free (55.97) at the state meet, and swam the anchor leg for both the 200 free and 400 free relay teams that each placed seventh.

“Despite what happened I was pretty happy with how I was able to do because I knew at that point it was probably the best I could do at that moment,” said Funkhouser, who held the area’s top times in the 50 free and 100 free. “It was the best times I’d had this season, so seeing the improvement just from that time was, I guess, encouraging to me. But it was still a little disappointing.”

Shaffer agreed that Funkhouser’s performance at the state meet was the best she could’ve done given the circumstances. He added that the tougher competition Funkhouser received from opposing swimmers in Richmond was the product of her own greatness over the past two seasons.

“Because the bar was set very high by her, the rest of the state was catching up,” said Shaffer, who noted that one second – a matter of about a foot of distance – separated the top six girls in the 100 free championship race.

“Things weren’t that competitive the last couple of years,” he added. “Not only was she off her game just a little bit, but the rest of the state had stepped up to the plate.”

Although Funkhouser’s postseason accolades weren’t what they’ve been in the past, her impact on Central’s swim team was as strong as ever.

“All those younger swimmers have watched her for a year, two years,” Shaffer said, “and … you just can’t ever quantify how deep that impact was.”

Funkhouser said she plans to swim in college and hopes to make a decision in early April as to where she will attend school in the fall.

“In the past years we’ve always had a great bond but this year I found that we were all super close,” Funkhouser said. “We all connected so well. The friendships that were made were tremendous and just leaving those friendships here is one thing that I’m gonna miss a lot. I thought that leaving would be OK but I’m sad to see it end.

“I am very blessed to have been able to swim on the Central High School swim team and to have this team was an incredible experience,” she added. “And the memories will be with me forever.”