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One of the finest swimming in Ashland history is set to make one final DASH FOR GLORY

ASHLAND — To see him move across the water so gracefully, one immediately assumes the name Dash King is something of a moniker — similiar to Flash Gordon, perhaps — a nickname perfectly suited for an athlete gifted with incomparable speed and agility.

"I hear that all the time," King, a senior and the leader of the Ashland High boys swimming team, says with a laugh.

The truth of how he got his name, however, isn't quite as glamorous.

"It's because of the author Dashiell Hammett," he said of the mid 20th-century American writer of detective novels and short stories whose works included "The Maltese Falcon". "My parents were reading a book by him when I was born, so I got the name Dashiell, and it got shortened to Dash."

Which is exactly what he has spent the better part of the last four years doing in swimming pools across Oregon.

King is putting the finishing touches on what he hopes will be a storybook ending to his high school career this weekend at the Class 5A state swim meet in Gresham. It's a place and scene he knows well.

"I love that meet," he said shortly after capturing another District 5A championship in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races on Saturday at the Southern Oregon University pool.

King, one of four Grizzlies to qualify for state in individual events, will be making his fourth trip to state. In addition to his specialties — the sprint events where one bad move can cost irreplaceable tenths of seconds — he will also swim the anchor leg on Ashland's 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.

King reached the final in both individual events last year, finishing fifth in the 50 and sixth in the 100, where he was the lone underclassman in the final.

"When I was a freshman, my goal was to go to state as a freshman," he recalled. "As a sophomore, go individually. As a junior, to be in the finals and then win state as a senior. So far things are going according to plan."

King enters the meet this year as perhaps the favorite in both events, having swam personal best times this winter that are faster than the winning 5A times last February. Without the benefit of anyone to push him, he swam the 50 free in 22.29 seconds on Saturday, just .04 off his personal best.

"I'm hoping I can win state in both events," King said. "I've already beaten the time that won last year."

Because seedings for state are determined by an athlete's time at the district meet, rather than the fastest time of the entire season, he is seeded third for both events.

Ashland coach Steve Mitzel said King has the ability to excel in any stroke and at any distance, but decided to concentrate on the sprints to maximize his chances at the state level.

"He flirted with the idea of going distance this year," Mitzel said. "When it came down to it, he said 'I have a higher level of comfort in the sprints.' "

King, who also is a member of the Triton Swim Club in Medford, plans to fine tune his stroke before leaving for Gresham later this week.

"I'm going to be working on my flip turns and sprints," King said. "Those always slow me down. I just need to work on getting off the wall faster and moving my arms faster ... and not getting nervous."

Mitzel recalled how shy King was as a freshman and how he has developed into not only a potential state champion, but also a team leader.

"I've seen growth that has just been amazing," Mitzel said. "He approached me before the season and said 'I'd like to be the team captain.' It's hard to find kids who want to be that natural leader."

King, who is partially home schooled and has aslo taken college level classes at SOU, has been accepted to Amherst College in Massachusetts, a prestigious liberal arts school which has a successful intercollegiate swimming program.

But that will come after one last crack at a state championship.

"I think his chances are real good," Mitzel said. "I'd love to see him take a medal at state. Swimming is his life and I'd love to see him end his high school career by taking first place in either the 50 or 100."

Now that would indeed be something to write about.

Reach reporter Mark Vinson at 776-4499 or email mvinson@mailtribune.com

Ashland senior Dash King will compete in two individual events and anchor two relay teams at the Class 5A state meet this weekend.