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West's Baird signs with Wagner College

Grace Baird of West Davidson swims to a win in the girls 200-yard individual medley during the Central Carolina Conference Championship swim meet in January. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

West Davidson’s Grace Baird has been to New York City once in her life.

She will spend most of the next four years in The Big Apple.

Baird signed a national letter of intent to swim at tiny Wagner College in a ceremony at the school Wednesday afternoon. The Seahawks participate in the Division I Northeast Conference, with schools like Monmouth, Fairleigh Dickinson and Mount St. Mary’s.

Two fellow West athletes also signed letters of intent Wednesday: Keyua McElveen and Tierra Lewis, who have helped turn the Dragons’ girls’ track program around the last four years, will continue their careers at the Division II level. McElveen signed to run at Wingate, and Lewis is headed to Lees-McRae.

Baird wrapped up a stellar career in the pool at West by winning her second straight state championship in the 500 free this winter. She finished second in the 200 free, but noted the long-distance events are where she finds true comfort.

Heading from Davidson County to New York City will certainly pull her from her comfort zone, but she fell in love with Wagner on her recruiting visit. “It’s a really small school,” Baird noted. “So everyone’s really close, and the team is great. It’s an all-girls team, so I guess that allows them to get closer.

“Plus, it’s right next to the city. Coach (Colin Shannahan) took us there one night … it was really overwhelming. I didn’t really know what to think at first.”

The contrast between the city and the nearby college, which probably felt similar to a small high school like West Davidson, was ironic. “You have the big city across from you, but then you get to Wagner and there’s about 2,000 people.

“It’s just really tiny, and everyone knows each other. That’s what I really like about it.”

Leaving home for college is sometimes difficult for young people to do. To leave home and head hundreds of miles away, to one of the largest cities in the world, required a leap of faith for Baird. “I thought I’d give it a shot, and I ended up loving it,” Baird said of her recruiting visit. “At first, I did (have some reservations about being so far from home).

“But then mom (Suzanne Baird) said to try it, you might love it. So I went, and I did love it.”

Baird has been a dominant force in the swimming world in Davidson County for over a decade now. She started winning Davidson County Aquatics Association events when she was five years old, and that continued throughout her prep career. The Dragons won the 1-A/2-A state championship as a team when she was a freshman, and she got to experience that with her sister, Kelly Ann — who is now a junior at Ohio State.

After her big sister graduated, she was able to swim out of her shadow and establish her own reputation in the water. She hopes that trend continues as she starts the next chapter at Wagner, where she will walk onto campus as something other than Kelly Ann’s little sister. “I kind of wanted to do my own thing for once,” she said. “And start somewhere and be my own person.”

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or