If you wanted to start an argument among swimmers all you have to do is ask them which of the four standard strokes (freestyle, backstroke, butterfly or breast stroke) is the most difficult. While acknowledging that it often depends on the swimmer, many have said that, in general, the butterfly is the most physically strenuous but the breast stroke, while nearly as rigorous, is harder to master, tougher to be good at.
When Libby Thompson started swimming for the Bryant Barracudas at the age of 5, she tried them all.
“I didn’t like backstroke,” she explained. “I always hit my hand on the wall. I didn’t like freestyle. I always punched the wall with my hand. I didn’t like butterfly because my arms hurt when I pulled them over. I liked breast stroke because it felt natural to me.”
And with a lot of work over the years, she mastered it. In fact, to the point where she set a Bryant High School swim team record in the 100-yard breast stroke at 1:15.47. That mastery and her achievements in the pool for the BHS team and in Junior Olympics have now led her to a college career.
On Friday, Libby, the daughter of Tiffany and Jeremy Thompson, signed a letter of intent to continue her education and swimming career with Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
“Libby has one of the best breast strokes I’ve seen come through Bryant,” said BHS swim coach Angel Dale. “She’s one of the few kids that made State before she was a year-round swimmer. I encouraged her, along with her summer coach, to train all year. That’s when she actually broke the school record. I think the extra training has helped to push her forward, helped with her technique and helped get her in the shape she needed to be in.”
All District for three years in a row as a member of the Lady Hornets medley relay team, Thompson earned all-District individually in that event last spring. As a member of the medley relay (which requires each of four swimmers to use a different stroke), she and her teammates finished fourth at State in 2013, fourth again in 2014 and second in 2015. The latter accorded them each all-State honors.
“One thing I remember about Libby is the first year or two she was on the (Barracudas) swim team when we were out there every evening at Mills Park and Longhills at practice, was just her determination,” said Bryant Major Jill Dabbs, who was involved in the youth swim program. “She was this little bitty blonde-headed thing and she just was so determined.
“I’m very proud of her and I thank her for taking advantage of the opportunity she was given,” Dabbs added. “She’s done this. She saw an opportunity and she took it, worked really really hard. Unless you’re a swimmer, you don’t know how hard you work to get to this.”
“The Barracudas is where I basically started out so, without Jill Dabbs, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Thompson said. “I want to thank everyone that has supported me.”
Tiffany Thompson added, “I want to thank the Mayor for her support in getting the community center built because, without that, we really would not have a swim team.”
The aquatic center at Bishop Park, adjacent to the community center, is now the home of the Bryant High School team as well as the Barracudas.
Of course, the BHS squad has competed at high school meets at OBU.
“OBU is a great place, I think, to swim because of the positive people there,” Libby Thompson said. “I really like the team. I like the bond that the team has. When I went to the recruiting trip, I really felt very at home when I was at OBU with the team. I also like Coach (Steven) Bostick. He’s very nice.
“I considered Centenary in Louisiana and a few other schools in Texas,” she mentioned. “But OBU really stood out because I wanted to stay in the state. I wanted to be around my family and do good things in Arkansas.”
She plans to major in Biology, adding, “I eventually want to go to med school and become a Dermatologist.”
Dale recalled, “When she tried out as a freshman, I thought, this kid’s got a good breast stroke. Now, she holds our school record. And that’s a goal this year. She’s going to try to break her record, to make it a little bit better so maybe it’ll stand a little bit longer.
“I’m very proud of her,” added the coach.
Thompson won five medals at the Junior Olympics in Virginia. She was a member of the second-place 200-yard medley relay team, third on the 400 medley relay squad. She was fourth in the 200 as well as the 400 freestyle relay teams and, individually, she took sixth in the 100-yard breast stroke.
“I got some really good times and I just felt like, ‘Wow, I really love this sport. I love traveling and going places and doing my thing,’” she related. “I decided I really wanted to swim in college and I was pro-active. I applied at OBU, set myself up for a recruiting trip and that’s how I got involved with them.”
Thompson continues her senior season with the BHS team with a sprint meet at UALR on Wednesday, Dec. 2, then with a home meet on Thursday, Dec. 3. The team will host the South District championship meet at Bishop Park on Feb. 12, 2016.
Along the way, Thompson will be aiming at the State qualifying time in the 100 breast stroke of 1:16.13 and, of course, breaking that school mark.