High School Sports

Swimmers, coach pick up all-area honors

Nation Ford's Kati Morris and Justin Ashcraft are this year's The Herald's All-Area Girls and Boys Swimmers while Susan Snyder of Northwestern is this year's The Herald's All-Area Swimming Coach of the Year.
Nation Ford's Kati Morris and Justin Ashcraft are this year's The Herald's All-Area Girls and Boys Swimmers while Susan Snyder of Northwestern is this year's The Herald's All-Area Swimming Coach of the Year.

Same swimmers, different school.

Kati Morris is The Herald's All-Area Girls Swimmer of the Year for the third straight time. Justin Ashcraft is the top boys swimmer for the second year in a row.

But this year, they are representing Nation Ford High School, not Fort Mill, which split when the town's new school opened this year.

What stayed the same is they are still head and shoulders above the local competition, and that's not likely to change until both have graduated.

The Herald's All-Area Swimming Coach of the Year is Northwestern's Susan Snyder. Her teams didn't win any championships this year, but the Trojans are closing the gap between themselves and Fort Mill and Snyder has worked hard to promote the sport.

She just completed her sixth season and was instrumental in bringing the Class AAAA state swim meet to Rock Hill the past two years.

"Our underlying goal every season is to catch Fort Mill,'' Snyder said. "My impression is they keep breeding these young, fast swimmers over there.

"This year we were in the meets with them, and in one meet our boys team beat theirs. And our girls beat Nation Ford once, which was also big for our program although both of our teams finished third in Region 3-AAAA. We are seeing progress.''

Snyder was a rower at Clemson. Rowing teams, she said, target swimmers because they have broad backs. But she has a swimming background, starting in the eighth grade for Hillcrest.

"I'm not sure how I got into this,'' Snyder said. "I was asked if I could coach when I was hired, and said only swimming or rowing. I was hired to teach science and took over the swim team. I teach honors biology.

"There is a big importance between athletics and education. It's exciting. We are thriving in the swim business in Rock Hill right now. I get to teach my swimmers and they get to see me in a different light.''

Ashcraft said going to Nation Ford was "pretty different'' because there were not as many people in the school or on the swimming team.

He was on two Fort Mill boys teams that won state championships and believes the Yellow Jackets would have won another if the schools had not been split.

Ashcraft, a junior, won the 200 and 500 freestyles at the state meet.

"It was definitely different, but I enjoyed it,'' Ashcraft said. "When we swam against Fort Mill, you could feel the tension between everybody wanting to do better and out-swim them. There was a little trash talking, but it was all fun and everybody knew it.

"We got a bunch of the younger, faster swimmers moving in and we are starting a new tradition. Our juniors tried to step up and become leaders since we didn't have any seniors. We'll stay focused and do our best next year.''

Ashcraft wants to swim in college. The first day he can talk to coaches is July 1, but he's getting a lot of letters. He top choices are Texas, Virginia and Navy.

Morris won two silver medals at the state meet, but underwent surgery after the season in December to correct her spine.

"I was out of the water for three months and the doctors said it would be six," she said. "I don't think it will be hard to get back into it, but I'm kind of scared because I haven't done a meet yet and I have to get my confidence back.

"I had a 59-degree curve of the spine and they fixed it to an 18. I have a 13-inch scar and two steel rods in my spine. I've gotten taller and that has changed how I feel in the water. I still have the same drive, but I have to get it back.''

Morris, a sophomore, said the splitting of the schools was exciting for a couple of reasons.

A lot of her teammates are also in Nation Ford's attendance zone. Melissa Halstensgard left as coach at Fort Mill to take over the program at the new school. And Morris was reunited with friends she made in middle school.

"It was made a lot easier because our coach came with us,'' she said. "It made it better for all of us because we were starting something new with the same coach. And I still have stuff from when I was at Fort Mill on my bedroom walls.

"I didn't feel that different at meets. We're still all friends, but it made you want to try harder to beat my friends. We practiced together during the season and saw them every day, so it wasn't that weird to swim against them.''

Snyder knows how it feels to lose swimmers to another school. It happened to her when South Pointe opened three years ago.

"The first year South Pointe was here, I was really jealous that I lost half my team and my assistant left to go there and coach,'' she said. "It was a weird year.

"But it's good for swimming in Rock Hill to have three schools. Our former superintendent (Phil McDaniel) allowed the YMCA and school district to build the facility. He helped to get the pool and Mervin Fassen deHeer, the director of the (Rock Hill) Natatorium has been very good to our programs.''