Nation Ford wins state swim title

Northwestern's Ty Youngblood competes in the boys 200-yard individual medley Saturday at the Class AAAA State Swim Meet in Rock Hill.
Northwestern's Ty Youngblood competes in the boys 200-yard individual medley Saturday at the Class AAAA State Swim Meet in Rock Hill.

Nation Ford High School earned its first state championship Saturday in dominating fashion. The Falcons' boys swim team topped the field, easily outdistancing second-place Mauldin by 33 points and two-time defending champ Wando by 80.

Mauldin won the girls title. Locally, Nation Ford placed fifth, Fort Mill was ninth and Northwestern finished 11th.

Nation Ford set six state records en route to the title. Seniors Justin Ashcraft and Jordan Berry accounted for four individual records. Both were part of two relay teams (200 medley and 400 freestyle) that broke records, as well.

Nation Ford opened its doors two years ago and will graduate its first senior class next spring.

The boys performance was dominating and left coach Melissa Halstensgard searching for the right words to describe what her team had achieved.

"They are swimming out of their minds," Halstensgard told one Nation Ford parent during the meet.

She said the team was ready for the meet and riding high all week in anticipation.

"The seniors were pumped. They really rose to the occasion," Halstensgard said. "I don't know if a second-year school has ever won a state championship."

Ashcraft, the oldest of three Ashcrafts on the team, got things rolling for the Falcons in the 200 freestyle. He broke his own state record with a time of 1:41.64.

Berry set records in the 200 IM (1:50.94) and the 100 butterfly (49.79). His time in the butterfly was almost two seconds faster than the record set in 2000 (51.49).

"I was hoping to bust something. I got off the block fast and it was over before I realized I had the record," Berry said.

The race was one of the best of the day. Spartanburg's David Ingraham, just a sophomore, won the event the last two years. He also broke the record but finished second to Berry.

"I had heard (Berry's) name," Ingraham said. "Swimming this year, with the Olympics and everything, times are going downhill fast. I've never been in a meet with a 49.7."

Ashcraft got his second state record in the 500 freestyle. Again, he broke his own record (4:37.91 in 2006) with a 4.33.27.

"The team is doing fantastic," Ashcraft said after the 500 free. "We brought our 'A' game."

He has narrowed his college choices to Virginia, Tennessee and Navy.

Nation Ford's boys 400 freestyle relay shattered the state mark by more than six seconds. The team was made up of three seniors -- Ashcraft, Berry and Lucas Hawes -- and sophomore Evan Ashcraft.

Fort Mill finished ninth on the boys side. Yellow Jackets coach Lindsey Hawkins coached many of the Falcons' swimmers at Fort Mill before the school split.

"I coached them when we won two state titles at Fort Mill. They are my babies. I wish them the best," Hawkins said.

The Falcons' girls were six points out of second place after 14 of the 22 events.