Boys’ Swimmer Of The Year: James Wood’s Conor Babington

Posted: March 25, 2015
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — As James Wood senior Conor Babington prepared himself mentally for the championship finals at the Group 4A state swim meet as the top seed in both of his events, he couldn’t help but be a little nervous.

“I thought, ‘People see that I’m first right now, and then if I get something less like second ... it would disappoint people to see that,’” recalled Babington a few weeks ago.

Disappoint? Not at all. That’s about the only thing Babington didn’t do in a standout career that culminated with a spectacular senior season.

Though Babington did wind up taking second in both the 100-yard butterfly and 50 freestyle at the state meet, he did so with the best times of his career at that point in his life and improved the school-record times he already held.

The consistent ability of Babington — The Winchester Star Boys’ Swimmer of the Year — to step up to the moment produced the best results the area has seen in years.

But his performances — which include five school records during his career — aren’t the only thing notable about Babington. It’s the way he carries himself that’s the true reason why Babington could never disappoint anyone.

“All of his teammates look up to him,” James Wood coach Kaitlyn Knott said. “Conor’s always cheering them on and encouraging them, and you can tell how much it means to them when he comes up to them and says, ‘Good job.’ I’ve got one swimmer in particular who’s talking about joining the Winchester Swim Team and putting more work in, because he wants to be like Conor.”

If that swimmer doesn’t become exactly like Babington, there’s no shame in that. It’d be a lot to ask of anyone to be as well-rounded as Babington is.

As a junior, Babington had about as good a season as you can ask for. He had the area’s highest state finish at the Group 4A state meet (third in the 100 fly) and also placed eighth at states in the 50 free. Babington’s top times in those events were both school records and the area’s best, and he also swam a school-record time in the 100 breaststroke (1:12.29 in meters) that was another area best.

But Babington didn’t rank among the area’s top three in any of the other individual events, and that was something he wanted to change. Babington said at the Conference 21 meet that he wanted to be remembered for more than just the 100 fly and 50 free.

He accomplished that this year by adding school records in the 100 back (1:05.28 in meters) and the 200 individual medley (2:19.92 in meters), and Babington also swam the area’s fastest time in the 100 free (55.10 in meters) and 100 breaststroke (1:13.24 in meters). Until the postseason, Babington led the area in seven of the eight individual events, and the only one he didn’t was the 400/500 free, which he didn’t swim this year.

Because Babington spent more time in the pool and in the weight room and did his training with more intensity in the offseason, he saw no reason why he couldn’t succeed in so many different events this year.

“He really showed his versatility,” Knott said. “Nobody worked harder than Conor did.”

While Babington showed his all-around swimming ability, there’s no getting around that the 100 butterfly and the 50 free are what he’ll be remembered for the most.

At the 4A North Region meet, Babington won the 50 free with a yard time of 22.20, which was the first time an area boys’ swimmer had won a 4A North Region or Region II individual event since 2009. (The Region II meet was not held during former Handley swimmer Ben Grove’s senior year of 2010 because of weather.)

At the state meet though, Babington was still only seeded fourth in the 50 free and 10th in the 100 butterfly, though his low seeding in the 100 fly was due in part to him electing to make a run at school records in others events during the postseason. (Babington earned a state-qualifying time for the 100 fly in the regular season.)

But Babington knew he had it in him to do big things at the state meet ever since a meet with the Winchester Swim Team in December, when he surpassed his butterfly state time and nearly bettered his 50 free state time from the 2014 Group 4A state meet.

Thriving off the competition during an event held on Feb. 20 at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, Babington recorded a time of 21.99 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, 0.21 seconds better than his seed time, to take first. In the 100 fly, Babington said he had the two fastest swimmers in his heat, and Babington went out and recorded a 52.49, almost three seconds faster than his seed time of 55.47.

“I definitely love competition,” Babington said. “It definitely makes it a lot more fun when you’re not stressing about times and you’re just racing other people.”

Babington’s performance gave him confidence, but now he was the one everyone else was targeting with two No. 1 seeds for the championship finals in the evening that day.

As he said, it made him nervous. You just wouldn’t have known it by the way he swam.

His time in the 50 free was a career-best 21.85, just 0.10 behind Jamestown’s Colin Wright. And in the 100 fly, Babington dropped a half-second with a 51.99, but Hanover’s Patrick Townsend finished a half-second in front of Babington with a 51.49.

Babington didn’t win a state championship, but it wasn’t as if he didn’t step up to the moment and swim his best. And in taking second in two events, he had the area’s best Group AA or Group 4A state finish since Grove won his second straight 100 breaststroke state title in 2010.

“My main goal was a state title,” Babington said. “But I still had my personal-best times by a lot, so I was really happy with that.”

Babington hasn’t slowed down since. In the Virginia Swimming Short Course Senior Championship on March 6, Babington dropped his 100 fly time by another 0.45 and swam a 51.54 to qualify for the National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals in Orlando, where Babington finished among the top two-thirds of all swimmers with a 51.80 last week. Babington also qualified for Junior Nationals in the 50 free, 50 breast and 50 fly, placing in the top 30 percent of the nation’s swimmers in the 50 fly.

Babington is looking to continue his swimmer career at NCAA Division III Merchant Marine Academy or NCAA Division I Old Dominion University.

No matter where he winds up, Knott said Babington can definitely look back on his final meet for James Wood and remember it as a fitting way to describe his career.

“He didn’t have the highest seeds, but he showed what he can do with strong competition,” Knott said. “And even though he didn’t win a state title, he gave it everything he had by swimming his best times. He left it all out there.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1


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