On February 7, the Leesville women’s swimming and diving team clinched a North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 4A state championship. (Click here to read more.) But this victory was not the first of its kind; the Pride also came out on top over 20 years ago in 1994 and 1996. From the very beginning, the Leesville women’s swim team and its talented members have made a splash at the local, regional, and state levels.
The team’s success is not a surprise when considering the top-notch year-round swim teams that serve the Raleigh area. Leesville’s swimmers hail from several teams, including the Marlins of Raleigh Swim Team (MOR) and the New Wave Swim Team (Wave). USA Swimming has awarded MOR a gold medal rating for 2019; only the top 20 swim teams in the country receive this recognition.
Leesville’s swimmers have other teams to choose from, some with rich histories. The Raleigh Swimming Association (RSA, founded in 1960) and the YMCA of the Triangle Area Swim Team (YOTA, founded in the late 1960s) both have served generations of swimmers. On the other hand, Cary’s Triangle Aquatic Center (TAC) Titans only began in 2012, yet several of Leesville’s top swimmers have flocked to the growing team.
Swimming Fast Fact: In the fall and winter, year-round swimmers swim events in “short course yards,” meaning that they swim in a 25-yard-long pool. However, in the spring and winter and at most national and international meets, swimmers swim events in “long course meters,” meaning that they swim in a 50-meter-long pool.
From the school’s inception to today, year-round swimmers and other members of Leesville’s swim team have brought the team success. During Leesville’s inaugural school year in 1994, the women’s swim team brought Leesville its first NCHSAA 4A state championship title, even without any seniors present. The team repeated this feat in 1996; however, for the next 23 years, it fell short of another championship. Leesville managed to place seventh at the state championships in 2012, but its rank plummeted to eighteenth the next year.
Then, victory came ever closer—in 2017 and 2018, the team placed second at the state championship meet, both years coming up behind Hough High School from the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, finally, members of the Pride broke their 23-year championship drought by securing Leesville’s third women’s swimming state championship title.
Swimming Fast Fact: To qualify to compete at the NCHSAA regional and state championship meets, swimmers must fulfill certain time standards.
Here are some standout swimmers who have contributed to the success of the Leesville women’s swim team, both today and in previous years:
Sherry West (Class of 1996)
As only a sophomore, West helped the team win the 1994 state championship, and as a senior, she and the team won again in 1996. For her success in the pool throughout her three years on Leesville’s team, the NCHSAA awarded her with the State Championships Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1996.
Swimming Fast Fact: “IM” stands for “individual medley.” In an IM event, a swimmer swims an equal distance of all four strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.
West earned five individual championships and a meet record from 1994 to 1996. In 1994, her sophomore year, she placed first in the state in the 200-yard individual medley (IM). She repeated this victory in 1995 while also placing first in the 100-yard butterfly. In 1996, she won the 100-yard freestyle and the 50-yard freestyle, in which she set a meet record.
At the regional level, West set three records in 1996: the 100-yard freestyle, the 50-yard freestyle, and the 200-yard medley relay.
During her senior year, West led the team to achieve an impressive 18–0 regular season record and a second-place finish at the Cap 7 conference championship meet; her season ended that year with the Leesville women’s swim team’s second state championship win.
Ruth Nichols (Class of 2001)
Swimming Fast Fact: In NCHSAA swimming, the top 16 finishers in each event score points for their teams. First place earns 20 points, second place earns 17 points, third place earns 16 points, and so on. Relays are worth twice as many points as individual events, so first place relays earn 40 points, second place earns 34 points, third place earns 32 points, and so on. At the end of the meet, the team with the highest number of points wins.
While members of Leesville’s Class of 2019 still wore diapers, Nichols created a name for herself in the swimming world. Although the women’s swim team did not win a state championship during her time at Leesville, Nichols was a strong member of the team and won the NCHSAA State Championships MVP award in 2001. Additionally, the News and Observer recognized her as the 2000–2001 Women’s Swimming Player of the Year.
In both her junior and seniors years, she won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle at the NCHSAA 4A state championships. As a senior and co-captain of the team, she and her fellow swimmers won every meet but one during their impressive regular season. Also in 2001, the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association (NISCA) recognized Nichols as an All-American for her academic accomplishments and her 50-yard freestyle time.
During high school, Nichols swam year-round, and after graduation, she continued swimming for Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Hannah Lincoln (Class of 2012)
In 2012, Lincoln became Leesville’s third NCHSAA State Championships MVP award recipient. That same year, the News and Observer named her the 2011–2012 Women’s Swimming Player of the Year.
At the 2011 state championship meet, Lincoln placed eighth in the 50-yard freestyle, but in her senior year, she became an individual champion in that event and even placed an NCHSAA 4A record. Additionally, she set a state record when she won the 100-yard butterfly in 2012 at the state championships. Lincoln placed seventh her junior and senior years in the 200-yard medley relay and finished eighth in the 200-yard freestyle relay in 2012.
Swimming Fast Fact: At NCHSAA meets, swimmers compete in three types of relays in which four swimmers swim an equal distance: the 200-yard medley relay, the 200-yard freestyle relay, and the 400-yard freestyle relay. The order of strokes in a medley relay is as follows: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle.
While swimming for Leesville, Lincoln swam year-round for MOR; she then swam at the college level for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To remain involved with swimming, Lincoln now works as a coach for MOR.
Grace Countie (Class of 2018)
Countie is one of Leesville’s most decorated swimmers, winning five individual state championships and four relay state championships. She currently holds the state and NCHSAA 4A records in the 50-yard freestyle and the 200-yard medley relay, both of which she set in 2018.
During her freshman year, Countie placed third in the state in the 50-yard freestyle, and she won the same event her sophomore, junior, and senior years. As a freshman, she also placed fourth in the 100-yard backstroke. In 2017 and 2018, she was a state champion in the 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard medley relay, and the 200-yard freestyle relay.
Although she never experienced a team state championship during her four years on Leesville’s women’s swim team, Countie did lead her team to two second-place finishes at the state championships in 2017 and 2018. Furthermore, in 2018, she won the NCHSAA State Championships MVP award and was the 2017–2018 News and Observer Women’s Swimming Player of the Year.
Swimming Fast Fact: The swimming community regards the United States swimming Olympic Trials as the fastest meet in the world. Thus, qualifying to swim at this event by meeting certain time standards is an important accomplishment.
Outside Leesville’s swim team, Countie’s accomplishments in the pool include swimming the 50-meter freestyle at the 2016 swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska; she has qualified for the 2020 swimming Olympic Trials in the same event. A former MOR swimmer, she now swims for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ashley McCauley (Class of 2019)
McCauley ended her Leesville swimming experience by helping her team win the 2019 NCHSAA 4A state championship. At this year’s state championship meet, she won the 100 breaststroke and placed a state and NCHSAA 4A record in the event. During her freshman-year season, McCauley finished fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke; the next year, she finished third, the next, second, until she finally won the event in 2019.
Besides the 100-yard breastroke, McCauley swam the 200-yard IM and the breaststroke leg of Leesville’s 200-yard medley relay team. In her sophomore, junior, and senior years, McCauley placed first in the 200-yard medley relay. She finished seventh in the 200 IM as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore, and third as a junior and senior.
A year-round swimmer for MOR, McCauley competed at the 2016 swimming Olympic Trials in the 100-meter and the 200-meter breaststroke, and she has qualified to swim the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 swimming Olympic Trials. Next year, she will swim for the University of Georgia.
Amanda Ray (Class of 2020)
Just a junior, Ray already has one individual state championship and four relay state championships under her belt. At the 2018 state championships, she won the 100-yard butterfly. In each of her three years on the team, Ray placed first in the 200-yard medley relay; she also won the 400-yard freestyle relay at this year’s state championship meet.
When she was only a freshman, Ray finished third in the 100-yard butterfly and sixth in the 500-yard freestyle. In 2018, she was the runner-up in the 500-yard freestyle, and she placed third in that event this year. Moreover, she finished second in the 100-yard butterfly in 2019. She was also part of the 2018 200-yard medley relay team that set a state and NCHSAA 4A record.
Swimming Fast Fact: Championship meets, such as the NCHSAA state championships, often occur in two parts. First are the prelims. The top 16 swimmers from each event in prelims then move on to compete in finals. Only swimmers who qualify for finals may score points for their teams.
Ray, who swims year-round for Wave, has committed to swim in college at the University of Florida beginning in fall 2020.