FORT MILL --
Since she first jumped into the pool at the Anne Springs Close Greenway Recreation Complex, Lindsey Hawkins has been leading swimmers.
The 28-year-old Fort Mill native again has the Fort Mill High swim team on the verge of even more historic accomplishments in just her fifth year as head coach of a team she swam for when she was in high school.
Over the past three years, Hawkins and the Fort Mill boys’ swim team have yet to be defeated, winning back-to-back state championships and 25 consecutive swim meets. Even more impressive is that in all those meets, which haven’t been just dual meets, they have defeated 109 consecutive opponents. During the same three years, the Lady Jackets’ swim teams has lost only three times, finishing third in 2010 in the state finals and second in the 2011 state finals, compiling a 22-3 record along the way and beating 102 out of 106 opponents.
“When you think of numbers you think of basketball or football,” she said. “It’s crazy to hear those numbers. Swimming is a team sport, but it’s also an individual sport as well and they have to do well for our team to win.”
Last year, Hawkins, who was named state Swim Coach of the Year, became just the second coach in school history – and the first female coach – to win back-to-back state titles.
“That is such an honor and I am glad that I am able to hold that title,” she said. “It’s a cool honor to have. It’s my kids that have helped me attain that title.”
Heading into Saturday’s state championship in Columbia, the odds would say that Fort Mill will three-peat, but with the Jackets moving back up to 4A this year, the task will be harder.
“This is a rebuilding year for us,” Hawkins said. “We have no senior boys. We are such a young team. My goal is to place in the top three. They realize this is a tough year for us and we have had a lot of changes moving up to 4A. They are going to do their best, but it’s not necessarily going to win them a state championship this year. We are not as deep in every event as we were last year.”
The pool at the Complex has been like a second home for Hawkins as she grew up swimming there and then transitioned into swimming for Fort Mill High, where she graduated in 2001. She started with the high school program as a swimmer when it first began back in 1997 and has been with it ever since.
“I love being around it,” she said. “I love being around the pool. I have been around this sport my whole life. I have been around the high school team since it came into existence.”
Hawkins started as an assistant coach with Fort Mill while a sophomore at Winthrop University, where she graduated in 2005. She was an assistant on the 2005 and 2006 state title teams, before taking over as head coach in 2007.
Early in her career as an assistant, Hawkins had the unique opportunity to coach some of the swimmers she had competed with just a couple years earlier.
“First it was harder because I was in college and was young,” she said. “We had the camaraderie as teammates and now I was in a different role as a coach. I had to draw the line. I wanted to be their friend, but I was also their assistant coach as well.”
That friend-coach role is something that Hawkins still carries on today with her teams.
“That is something I have always had with my swimmers,” she said. “I like to know what is going on with them. It is important to have an adult in your life, whether it’s a parent or teacher or coach that you feel comfortable with that you can come and talk to.”
That openness that Hawkins has with her team works for the program and along with guidance from assistant coach Cindy Van Buskirk, Fort Mill has thrived.
“She does a good job in relating to the kids,” Van Buskirk said. “Her years as an assistant and her level of energy she brings and her youth and experience, and the fact that I am a parent and my experience, there is a strong line of continuity there. We make a good team.”
When Nation Ford High was formed in 2007, drawing athletes from Fort Mill High, the Jackets’ swim team had some down years, by their standards, as the Falcons got the majority of talent from Fort Mill and would go on to win the 2008 state title.
It was during those tough seasons that personally, Hawkins hit hard times as well after losing one of her biggest supporters in her father, Tim, to cancer. The elder Hawkins had not only been a supporter of his daughter during her swim career as an assistant coach, but also was an avid supporter of Fort Mill athletics, so much so that the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship that goes to a deserving swimmer was created in his honor.
“He always taught us (along with her sister, Kelly) to never give up at whatever we did and always try to be the best at what we did,” Hawkins said.
So not only did I try to do that in the sports I played or in my job and in my personal life, but also as a coach. There are times I get frustrated and I try to think about what he would say or what he would have done. If I always think of what he would do, I will 99 percent of the time make the right decision. Both of my parents have had a huge influence on me. My mom still comes to the meets, and I still wish he was here to see all of this, but it was great having him on the deck when I swam, and I wish he could be here to see this now, but I definitely think he is proud of me.”
Hawkins would push through the tough times and have the Jackets rebound starting in 2010.
With the help of year-round swimming at the Mecklenburg Aquatics Center and the Rock Hill Aquatics Center, as well as summer swimming from local teams like the Baxter Barracudas and the Tega Cay Breakers, Fort Mill has a built-in farm system much like minor leagues that groom swimmers to compete in high school and beyond. Hawkins contributes much of the team’s success to programs like that.
“They are the ones that grab these kids and get them interested in swimming,” she said. “That is how we have gotten successful. There have been people like Cindy [Van Buskirk] and [Rock Hill Rays coach] Lynn Williams that have grabbed these kids and really made them into great swimmers.”
In recent years, Hawkins traces her team’s success back to the longevity of the system.
“It’s been those kids who have been with me since seventh grade, that stay with the program,” she said. “These kids swim all the time. I have the honor of coaching them. I love coaching them. They are great athletes. We have been successful because we have had kids stick with it for six years.”
It’s unknown if this year is one of those year’s where Fort Mill wins it all again, but one thing is for sure, if they are on the starting blocks, than the threat is always there.