Fully motivated, James Wood swimmer Babington now one of area’s best
Posted: February 9, 2013
WINCHESTER — Conor Babington only started swimming competitively three years ago, and at first, he was admittedly “really bad.”
But particularly in the last year, the James Wood sophomore has not only been on a mission to make himself the best swimmer he can be, but also everyone around him.
“Since he was a freshman, he’s grown so much not just in terms of speed and strength, but he’s also grown into a mature leader,” James Wood coach Kristy Hartbauer said. “We’ve got a number of freshmen who had never swam before, but they came out for the team because of his recruiting efforts, and he’s pushed our swimmers to work hard.”
The rise of Babington — who will be in action at today’s Region II meet at Fork Union Military Academy — has indeed been an impressive one.
One year after not being among the top area’s top three in a single event — and one year after a postseason in which he didn’t feel he was in top shape — Babington is one of just two area swimmers to rank among the area’s top three in five events, and Babington leads the area in the 200-meter freestyle (2 minutes, 11.53 seconds).
Babington and junior teammate Brian Baker were the only boys to win two individual events at the Northwestern District meet, with Babington taking the 200 free and 100 butterfly. He took the latter event in a time that was eight seconds faster than what he swam at last year’s district meet.
And Babington — who did not qualify for the Group AA/A state meet last year — needed just one meet to qualify this year, doing so in the 50 free. Babington’s top time is a 25.81 in a dual with Handley on Dec. 7, which is nearly a second faster than his best time last year.
“It was really hard to get into [competitive swimming] at first, but I kept with it,” said Babington, who started with the team at Clearbrook before moving over to the Winchester Swim Team two years ago. “I just needed to get my strokes down and my endurance up, and swimming with Winchester helped me do that.”
More than anything else though, Babington loves competition, and that’s what fueled him to push himself harder than ever after last season.
Starting in the summer, Babington spent more time in the weight room and in the pool — he went from swimming two times a week to five times a week, and he swam an additional 6,000 meters in the pool on those practice days. And swimming with WST’s older swimmers for the first time forced him to push himself more than before.
Naturally, Babington wanted to see that hard work pay off with fast times in meets, and going faster in the 50 free than he ever had before in a high school meet right off the bat set the tone for the season he’s had.
“Last year I was trying so hard to get that [state cut] and I wound up never getting it,” he said. “I didn’t swim my best at regionals [in my final meet].
“Getting it in my first meet [this year] felt great. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
The presence of Baker — a transfer from Sherando — has also helped Babington greatly.
Hartbauer said the duo didn’t really know each other before this year (Baker swims for Valley Swim Team Phoenix in Strasburg), but Hartbauer said they’ve connected over what it means to balance your goals for high school and club swimming, and they motivate each other to do well.
“It’s really nice that he ended up coming to the team and swimming for us,” said Babington, who hopes to one day qualify for the USA Swimming Junior Nationals with Baker. “He’s definitely helped the confidence of all the guys on the team.”
Though Babington has the state time in 50 free and leads the area in the 200 free, it’s the butterfly that he enjoys the most.
A year ago, Babington was fifth at the district meet with a time of 1:13.05, a disappointing result because he felt he wasn’t in shape. But this year he won with the event with a time of 1:05.23, just 0.13 off his season best. Though that’s not enough for an automatic state time, Babington has recorded a time with the Winchester Swim Team that would be good enough for states. Even if he doesn’t get it, a top-six finish today will put him in the state meet.
“I like the fly, because it’s more challenging than the 50 free, which is just down and back,” Babington said. “It’s not over in 20 seconds, so it’s definitely more rewarding, and it’s fun. In the butterfly, I feel like I’m flying.”
Hartbauer feels with the competition that Babington will face, it wouldn’t surprise her at all to see Babington swimming in two events at the state meet, an experience that should only make him stronger.
Babington said he hopes his team can also make a big leap after the experiences they’ve shared this season.
“I’m really not that experienced, but I feel like I can lead,” Babington said. “Our team is coming along.”
Babington, who also plays baseball, will likely have to cut down on his workouts some in the spring, but he’s more than proved himself to Hartbauer already with his summer plans. Babington will be spending the summer in Ireland, where his father’s from, and he’s already found a swim team he can compete with while he’s over there.
“That shows a lot about his dedication,” Hartbauer said. “I think he’s a got a great future ahead of him.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1