ROCKWALL, Texas — Before Red Oak and Waxahachie High School splashed down during Saturday's 12-5A district meet at the Rockwall ISD Natorium, North Dallas probably didn't know Ellis County is home to some of the best swimmers in the state.
The two cities boys and girls, which finished third and fourth and fourth and fifth out of six teams, crowned more than a dozen district champions and qualified nearly all of their swimmers for regionals.
While Red Oak's boys' 200-yard Medley team of Ashton Wester (50-yd backstroke, 29.12), Benjamin Stanfill (100-yd breaststroke, 30.80), Fabrizio Garcia (150-yd butterfly, 29.98) and Riley Elledge (200-yd freestyle, 25.52) won gold with a collective time of 1:54.42, Waxahachie's Levi David and Max Gus were busy dominating the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly swims.
"We were winners in so many areas but didn't have the numbers to place against bigger 6A and 5A schools in our district," said Tamara Pruitt, the head swim coach at Waxahachie High School and Boys' Coach of the Meet. "We had so many special moments during this district meet — from Hope (David) getting her medal after we thought she'd be DQ'd to the girls 200-yard relay coming from behind and winning it all. I think we;re looking good in a lot of areas heading toward regionals."
Of the 21 events, Red Oak and Waxahachie claimed at least one of the top medal positions in 16 events and in one — the 50-yard freestyle swim — they owned all three.
In that event, Indians David (21.66) and Max Gus (22.70) and Hawk Ashton Wester (23.80) finished No. 1, No. 2. and No. 3. Both David, with Gus, Brice Bishop and Nick Cooper, and Wester went on to win relay district championships.
Wester also won bronze in the 200-yard freestyle swim. Stanfill, as well as Waxahachie's Joseph Gilliland, won silver and bronze medals in the 200-yard intermediate swim, finishing with times of 2:20.51 and 2:25.46, respectively.
"I was impressed with the way they swam," said Maddie Hooper, the Hawks' head swim coach. "Usually we have Rockwall-Heath in our district, but they moved up to 6A. [Red Oak] was really able to compete with the team's in our district. Every one of our swimmers qualified for regionals and there are seven or eight that will swim individually, too. That didn't happen last year. It was a big improvement from last season."
She credited grizzled veterans like Stanfill and Wester as well as Loey Parker, Ashley Garnett, Stormy Engledow and Markeara Brooks with efforts that kept Hawk and Lady Hawk swimming in the running to crack the top three teams of the meet.
It may have been doubly so for Levi, who got to see his sister Hope David claim her first district championship as a freshman. Levi, who helped the Indians' 200-yard and 400-yard Freestyle Relay Teams win district championships and outpace their competition with respective 1:32.87 and 3:31.08 finishes, said he was more Hope than adding a another district title notch to his belt.
"Honest to God, man, it felt better than mine," said Levi, the Swimmer of the Meet, his smile beaming from ear-to-ear. "They told us she got DQ'd and it broke my heart. I immediately thought, 'I'd give all of my four medals just to give her one.' To see how happy she was when she finally won one was amazing."
"I thought it was gone," Hope said about winning the girls' 100-yard backstroke swim while pinning her soaking-wet hair back in a ponytail. "I was worried about that one because I was a little tired. I'm just glad I pulled it off in the end and that my brother got to see it. He and my Dad are my rocks. They've taught me everything I know.
Both Davids' and Pruitt, however, admitted that the single most powerful moment of the day was the triumph of the girls' 400-yard freestyle relay team of Sarah Smith, Savannah Hesiler, Kailey VanderVoore and Ashlyn Florence despite being paired with each other at the last minute.
David said when he saw Florence turn and come neck-to-neck with Forney High School's Cadey Craft, he knew Waxahachie's girls had done something everyone outside of the Gingerbread City never thought would happen — especially since the girls' relay was placed in lane seven and not lane four.
"Besides the fact you're catching all the wave from lane four and five, you're swimming against kids in lane eight that are the slowest in the race and kids in lane six that you can't see," Levi said. "It makes it so much more difficult to swim when you cant see who you're racing and you're just facing the water in front of you. We were more excited to see our girls swim out in lane seven and watch Ashlyn come back from a half-a-pool deficit and out-touch her at the end. That was the moment, for me, I was most proud of our team and I was most proud of being a part of the meet."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at for story ideas or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.