Girls swimming: Salisbury sophomore Morris made waves

Published 8:03 pm Saturday, March 11, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY —  Ava Morris, a 5-foot-8 hitter on the hardwood, will be the first one to tell you that volleyball is her game.

As far as swimming, well, that’s just something that she’s athletic enough to be really good at once she gets in the water.

“Volleyball is my main sport,” Morris said. “I play for a club team in Mooresville and we travel up and down the east coast. We practice three days a week when we are not traveling, and that does not leave much time for swimming.”


Be that as it may, Morris, a Salisbury sophomore, was not a difficult choice as the Post’s Female Swimmer of the Year.

Morris had the most impactful season among Rowan girls on the big stages, including a third-place regional finish and 11th place in the 50 free in the 1A/2A State Championships. She was the only individual from the Rowan schools to score points at the state level. South Rowan and East Rowan were able to score in the 3A State Championships in relay events.

Morris stood out from start to finish. She won her two individual events (50 free and 100 butterfly) in every meet up to the regional level. Besides winning those two events, she also anchored the Hornets’ victory in the 200 free relay in the Central Carolina Conference Championships.

Sallie Pittman coached Morris when she arrived with the Hornets as a successful freshman swimmer. She was a state qualifier in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly as a freshman.

With Pittman’s departure for R.J. Reynolds, Morris was coached as a sophomore by Mary Wymbs and Ryan Starrett, who has guided the Salisbury boys for a number of years.

“Mrs. Wymbs was our organizer and I spent most of my swim time with her and grew very close to her,” Morris said. “Ryan managed our technique and performance improvement.”

Morris has been in the water off an on since she was 5 years old.

“I actually started swimming on a competitive team at 5,” Morris said. “My parents signed me up for a lot of different sports at a young age. Swimming and volleyball were the two that stuck. When I was 7 or 8, swimming got serious. I began swimming for the club team that (former Catawba coach) Mike Sever ran out of Catawba’s pool.”

Morris turned in an All-Rowan County volleyball season in the fall. She was the go-to hitter for a 17-7 Salisbury team.

The Hornets’ volleyball team lost in the first round of the 2A state playoffs on Oct. 22. The first official day of swim practice was on Oct. 31.

Morris had some catching up to do when she reported.

“Ava stays really busy with school and with volleyball, but when it’s time to swim, she always give it her all because she’s a great competitor,” Starrett said. “She’s a hard worker, a joy to be around and a wonderful teammate.  Since she didn’t swim club this year, we worked on her freestyle and butterfly technique, worked at her being as efficient in the water as she possibly could be,” Starrett said. “We made sure she had clean strokes. Even when she would get tired, she had very little draft. She never lost her speed.”

Salisbury has a small team, but when it’s time to swim, Morris competes and enjoys every minute. Some of her friends for life are on the swim team.

“Kate Burton is a senior and I’m really going to miss swimming alongside her,” Morris said. “But I still have another year with Lucy Heilig. We go all the way back to when I was getting started.”

There were some unexpected challenges during the season. The heat at the Catawba pool, where the Hornets normally practice, went out for a period of time.

“With the heat out, the team didn’t have an organized practice for over a month, but they still practiced on their own at the Y,” Starrett said. “We’d tweak things at the meets or whenever I got a chance to see Ava swim. Keeping all that in mind, it was amazing that she kept doing great in her races.”

The wins piled up for Morris in the 50 free and in the 100 butterfly. She always helped the Hornets get their share of points in the 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay.

The Hornets were fourth in the county and in the CCC, but there were some great moments.

“The best team moment for me this season was at the county meet when we finished second in the 200 free relay and swam a regional cut,” Morris said. “Having my team there made the regional a lot of fun.”

In the 1A/2A Central Regional held in Greensboro — her favorite swimming venue — Morris swam a personal best of 25.59 seconds in a qualifying heat for the 50 free.

“I’d broken 26 in a relay event, but this was the first time I’d done it officially,” Morris said. “That had been a goal of mine for a long time, so that was a proud moment.”

Morris finished third in the 50 free final to make it back to the state meet in Cary.

“States are even more stressful than regionals, but Lucy Heilig, my great friend, whom I have swam with for my entire life, came along with me and made the experience one of my most cherished,” Morris said. “There’s a big adrenaline rush when you get to the regional and state races. But the pressure in the larger meets tends to push me to perform better, even though my nerves go right through the roof.”

She finished 11th in the 50 free in the state, swimming 25.97 in the prelim heat and 25.88 in the consolation final for six points. It was a nice finish to her sophomore season.

Now it’s back to club volleyball, although her swimming success this season has altered her schedule somewhat.

“I  originally stopped swimming with a club my freshman year because of a shoulder injury,” Morris said. “But I plan to start club swimming back this fall because of how much I miss it.”

The Hornets can look forward to two more great seasons from her in both sports.

“Ava is a wonderful teammate,” Starrett said. “She’s a joy to be around.”


South Rowan won all the relay events in the Rowan County Championships, rolled to the county title and has 10 of the 16 girls on the all-county team.

South’s Leslie Franks is the Post’s Rowan County Coach of the Year.

East Rowan freshman Addyson Sechriest also had a notable season. Like Morris, she won her two individual county events and helped the Mustangs place in two relays.

Sechriest was named the Most Outstanding Swimmer at the Rowan County Championships, with coaches using relay points to break the tie with Morris.

Sechriest competes in the 3A South Piedmont Conference, where it was difficult for Rowan girls to make an impact. Central Cabarrus and Lake Norman Charter were among the best teams in 3A, while Northwest Cabarrus and Concord were among the top 15 teams in the state meet.


The All-Rowan County girls swim team is determined by the Rowan County Championships. First in a relay event; first or second in an individual event.

South  (Rowan County champion)

Audrey Weaver — 200 medley relay, 100 backstroke

Aiden Shepherd — 200 medley relay

Ava Blume — 200 medley relay, 200 IM, 200 free relay

Sydney Hughes — 200 medley relay, 50 free, 100 free, 200 free relay

Audrey Rockstad — 100 butterfly, 400 free relay

Brinley Patterson —200 free relay

Aubree Thompson — 200 free relay, 400 free relay

RaElla Smockstad — 100 backstroke

Bailey Fisher — 400 free relay

Laurel Everett — 400 free relay


Addyson Sechriest — 200 free, 500 free

Gracie Lineberger — 200 IM, 100 breaststroke


Kate Burton — 200 free, 100 free

Ava Morris — 50 free, 100 butterfly


Maggy Moore — 500 free

Anna Grace Blackledge — 100 breaststroke


Coach of the Year — Leslie Franks, South