PILOT MOUNTAIN — It took the last of the Tunstall sisters a while to embrace her family’s love of the pool.
There is no question that the family — parents and coaches Jeff and Leah and daughters Kaitlyn, Courtney, Kelsey and Anne-Louise — are the First Family of Swimming in Surry County. The elder Tunstalls have run the programs at the North Piedmont Aquatic Club and at East Surry for many years, with Courtney succeeding her mother as East’s head coach after returning from college two seasons ago. The first three daughters all followed their parents into collegiate swimming.
For a time, it looked like that would end with Anne-Louise. The last of the four Tunstall children, she’s been in competitive swimming for 12 years, but the love of the sport didn’t come for a while.
“Having the sisters before her, she didn’t want to swim in college and that was fine with us,” said Leah Tunstall. “We didn’t want to force her; you really have to dedicate yourself to swim at that level. She made this decision on her own and I think she chose a great place to go on to the next level.”
The somewhat reluctant last of the dynasty followed her sisters to East Surry, and as a sophomore, she played a key role on a team that not only won the Lady Cardinals’ fourth straight conference title, but also finished as the best 1A traditional school in the state. East’s sixth-place finish in the meet was its best in more than a decade. At season’s end, sister Kelsey, the top swimmer on the team, signed a Division I offer from Campbell, and it looked like the Lady Cardinals had hit their high-water mark.
But then Anne-Louise found her own passion for swimming.
“It was probably my junior year when it hit me that I wanted to swim in college,” she said. “I just didn’t like it at first and didn’t think I wanted to, but then my work ethic changed, and I decided that I wanted to continue swimming.”
Instead of falling off, the next two East Surry teams, led by a more dedicated Anne-Louise and standout teammates such as Mikki Nunn, Sydney Beck, Hadly Tucker, Gracie Pruitt and Julie Hicks, were better than ever.
“She realized she had a lot more talent than she thought she did and could give a lot more than she had,” said Leah Tunstall. “That kind of maturing is really nice to see both as a parent and as a coach.”
East Surry won its fifth straight NW1A crown in 2017, and then finished fourth at the 1A/2A state championships in Cary, behind only charter schools and 2A teams. It was the highest finish by an East Surry swim team in 17 years. In 2018, the Lady Cardinals made it six straight conference titles, with Anne-Louise as co-MVP of the championship meet. In Cary, East Surry finished fifth overall, and were the best traditional 1A for the third year in a row.
“It was wonderful. My team accomplished so much, and it was rewarding to know that our hard work paid off,” she said.
Another remarkable Tunstall career was complete, and now Anne-Louise needed to decide where to go. She settled on Emory & Henry almost by accident.
“We just decided to visit there while we were on our way to visit other colleges, and it was one of the prettiest schools I’ve ever been to,” said Anne-Louise, who signed with the school on April 18. “The coach contacted me later on and we started talking, and I decided to take a recruiting trip. I really liked the team and the school. It was a good atmosphere.”
The Tunstalls just walked around the school that day, but she later went for an official visit and chose the Wasps over an offer from Bridgewater.
Anne-Louise is currently undecided on a major, but is leaning toward chemistry. And she’s headed to college with a big head start.
“Not only has she done well athletically, but she is also an exceptional student,” said Jeff Tunstall, an assistant superintendent with the Surry County Schools. “She will graduate with 34 college credits. We’re super-proud of what she has been able to do.”
It was a journey that Leah and Jeff allowed her to take as she desired.
”My parents always told me to just do the best I could,” Anne-Louise said. “I never really felt like I had to do what (my sisters) did, and I was just able to do what I wanted to do.”
And now one more college program is glad a Tunstall made the choice to swim on.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.