Ford picks North Carolina

Published Nov 29, 2013 at 10:43 pm (Updated Nov 29, 2013 at 10:43 pm)

Katie Ford’s favorite color is blue. Good thing, too. She swims for the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils and next fall, she will continue her career at the University of North Carolina.

The senior selected Carolina blue over the red hues of Indiana University at Bloomington and Ohio State. Notre Dame and Kentucky also recruited the two-time WPIAL champion. She visited all five schools.

“I liked (Carolina) best,” said the 18-year-old daughter of Mary Lou and Jim Ford. “I felt comfortable there. It wasn’t like the other places. I felt at home.”

In part, Ford’s choice proved relative. Her aunt and uncle, Maureen and Bruce Bennett, as well as two cousins, Matt and Michaela, live 20 minutes away from Chapel Hill. Plus, her current assistant coach, Amanda Smith, swam for UNC. And former Pitt coach Aaron Workman serves as an assistant to Rich Deselm.

“Katie fell in love with North Carolina and it’s a good fit for everybody. There’s a lot of Pittsburgh ties there,” explained Lebo skipper Tom Donati referring to Smith, whom he coached at Seneca Valley and Workman. “Plus, because Pitt’s now in the ACC, we’ll get to see her swim, too.”

That’s the exciting part, because Ford has thrilled the scholastic scene for the past four years. She has dominated the 50-yard freestyle, winning two district titles. Ford finished as high as third place in the state in the free and fifth in the backstroke. In addition to the 100 free, 100 and 200 back, Ford helped her 200 freestyle relay place sixth, where she led off in 23.61, and the 400 free relay take 10th, again leading off the relay and split 52.24.

This winter, she hopes to win a state title and shatter the WPIAL record for the 50 free. She was .3 of a second away from the mark last year, but was one-tenth of a second under the time during her relay leg.

“Katie will have a great year,” Donati predicted. “She has had a great career in high school but she will get better.”

Donati expects Ford, however, to reach her peak in college.

“Her best days are ahead of her,” he said. “She has gotten faster this year and she will continue to get faster.”

At North Carolina, Ford should blossom. She aspires to be an ACC champion and participate in the NCAA championships. Donati sees Ford reaching her potential.

“Katie will help (Carolina) win an ACC championship and she will be an NCAA qualifier because she’s versatile. She can swim relays and backstroke and the 200 free is her best stroke and she doesn’t even swim it in high school.”

While Donati embraces Ford’s talent, he appreciates her personality and work ethic. “She’s talented and gifted. Katie loves to swim. She’s the first one in the water and the last one out. She wants to get better.

“And,” he added, “in a program like North Carolina, she will flourish. I know she really has helped our program.”

Mt. Lebanon’s program got a boost recently when it opened its new natatorium. It features an eight-lane pool, electronic scoreboard and new locker rooms and offices. The Blue Devils debut in their new facility Dec. 5 when they host South Fayette.

“I like (the pool) a lot,” said Ford. “It’s definitely a big change. I’m proud to be swimming in the best facility around.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Donati. “There is not a pool as nice in the state of Pennsylvania. Mt. Lebanon has put a lot of time, money and heart into this program and facility and it’s time for us to produce.”

Katie Ford File

Age: 18

Parents: Mary Lou and Jim

Siblings: Chris, 21

School: Mt. Lebanon

Year: Senior

GPA: 4.6

Favorite class: Statistics

Sport: Swimming

Achievements: Two-time WPIAL champion; PIAA bronze medalist in 50 free.

College choice: North Carolina

Best snack: Wheat pretzels

Candy bar: Hershey’s Cookies & Cream

Training table: No fast food. Oatmeal for breakfast. Turkey sandwich for lunch at school (every day). Whatever mom makes for dinner. More chicken and hardly ever eats meat.

Favorite swimsuit brand: Nike.

Favorite restaurant: Mad Max.

People might be surprised to know this about you: Ford is a talented artist. She specializes in pen and ink sketches and colored pencil drawings. “The whole art thing amazes people,” she said.

Most embarrassing moment: False starting at states my freshman year. I was so nervous.

Dream destination: Australia.

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