Swimming & Diving: Nyah Funderburke ready to make final splash with CSG Unicorns
Nyah Funderburke didn’t envision herself in the pool when she was twirling as a ballet dancer, but she quickly discovered that she was equally as agile in the water.
The senior standout for the Columbus School for Girls swimming and diving team has won three individual state championships and wants to add more.
At 5-foot-11, Nyah’s height wasn’t the body type needed for ballet. It was more suited to basketball, the sport played by her father Lawrence Funderburke, a 6-9 standout at Columbus Wehrle, Indiana University, Ohio State, in the NBA and overseas.
Swimming was more to the liking of the New Albany resident, however.
“After ballet, I looked at the options and swimming looked intriguing to me,” she said. “I’m built for the sport, but I didn’t realize it until I started putting in the commitment to the sport.
“(Basketball) never came to me. I probably picked up a basketball as a baby and that was the last time I ever focused on it. Basketball wasn’t my niche, and swimming was. My dad was humbled about that, but he wants me to do what I enjoy.”
Funderburke, an Ohio State signee, won the 100-yard backstroke (program-record 54.49 seconds) and 100 butterfly (54.68) in the Division II state meet last season at Branin Natatorium in Canton. As a sophomore, she won the 50 freestyle (23.46).
Before her sophomore season, Funderburke suffered an ACL tear in her left knee during the soccer preseason. After the surgery, she returned to the water as quickly as she could to prepare for the swimming season.
“It was definitely challenging, especially a week or two after the surgery,” she said. “My knee was so swollen that all I could do is sit on the couch and do my classwork. Then I was able to get in the (CSG) pool and the main thing I worked to do was trying to keep my left leg as strong or as close to being as strong as the right one.
“I missed the first week or two (of the swimming season), and then I was ready. I went on to win my first state title. That was truly unforgettable when I hit that wall to win it. I put in a lot of hard work for that.”
Coach Brian Botzman raves about Funderburke’s work ethic, but her laser-focused attention is what sets her apart from the competition.
“Some kids go through the motions and don’t do the little things correctly, but that’s not Nyah,” Botzman said. “When you watch her prepare, she focuses on the little things. Some kids get complacent and that’s hard to coach because they don’t work on details.
“Nyah does all of that and she’s still working harder than in the past. She’s done a good volume, so she should be good on the taper. She’s very hungry to be a much better swimmer.”
In the home MSL-Ohio Division meet Jan. 30, Funderburke was one of three Unicorns to win two individual events as the program won its eighth consecutive league championship.
Funderburke won the 100 back (58.17) and 100 fly (58.6) as CSG scored 394 points to outdistance runner-up Columbus Academy (241) as eight teams scored.
Olivia Morse was first in the 50 freestyle (25.1) and 100 free (54.66), and Bethany Spangler won the 200 free (2:00.72) and 500 free (5:24.27). Ava Fortney won the 100 breaststroke (1:09.04).
Funderburke joined Fortney, Spangler and Allie Gunsorek on the winning 200 medley relay (1:52.74), and Funderburke, Gunsorek, Julianne Aslaner and Morse made up the first-place 200 free relay (1:43.55).
Spangler, Morse, Aslaner and Fortney were on the champion 400 free relay (3:48.06).
“It really doesn’t feel like I’m a senior,” Funderburke said. “It feels like I time-traveled from my freshman to my senior year.
“We’ve had about 10 meets for club and high school seasons. I don’t think anyone thought this would be the same kind of season with all of the (COVID-19) measures and protocols. You can’t be scared of the unknown. You have to take what you know and prepare for the championship season.”
That begins with the sectional meet Feb. 13 at Academy. The district is slated for Feb. 18 at Bowling Green, followed by state Feb. 24 in Canton.
“Nyah’s very focused on having a great senior year,” Botzman said. “She’s had to adjust training because of the pandemic. Her club team at Ohio State is no longer allowed to use that pool, so she joined the New Albany club team.
“We didn’t have athletics for two and half weeks before Thanksgiving, which is prime training time. There always has been a Ned Reeb (in December) and a Northeast Classic (in January) to compare yourself to other top swimmers, but those didn’t happen.”
Funderburke and Botzman are trying to figure out the two individual events in which she will compete during the postseason, but her versatility gives her several options.
“Nyah can go in the 50 or 100 free or the 100 back or the 100 fly,” Botzman said. “She could be in the finals of all of them. We’ll have to wait and see.”
No matter the events, Funderburke has one goal in mind – setting a state-meet record, with her name on the record board for all to see.
“Even before COVID and after state, I set the goal of getting back and breaking a state record,” she said. “You put in all of the work to get there, so that would be great. Having my name up there would be a great reward.”