It’s hard to believe Wilmington High’s Lauren Barber is only a freshman.
She’s posted some of the best times in the state this year, broke pool records that were held by college athletes and claimed multiple district and state titles as part of the New Castle Community YMCA swim team.
And she’s only getting started.
Barber was the lone ninth-grader to advance to the finals of the PIAA Class AA Swimming and Diving Championships last weekend at Bucknell University, where she earned a silver and bronze medal.
Barber finished the 100-yard breaststroke in a time of 1:04.63, just less than a second behind Scranton Prep senior Rebekah Campo, who recorded a time of 1:03.84, for second place in the state. Barber placed third, with a time of 1:51.52, on Friday in the 200-yard freestyle. The performance earned her Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
Barber’s times over the weekend were exactly what she was looking for, as each was a personal best. The only competitors to beat her at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium were three seniors.
So, how in the world is all of this possible from a 15-year-old, who competes independently because Wilmington doesn’t have a swim team?
Her coach had a quick answer.
“She works,” said Anita Murphy, who coaches Barber at the New Castle YMCA, “and she does not miss practice. She’s very dedicated. She’s here — sick, healthy, homework, whatever — she’s here. She’s very driven. If she’s going to go, she’s going to go and give it her all. She’s not just going to settle for being there.”
The work Murphy spoke of starts in September and doesn’t end until April. That’s eight months of daily practices from 6 to 8 p.m. and weekends full of competitions. Murphy said she can’t remember the last time Barber missed a practice. Furthermore, Murphy can’t even recall a time when Barber came to practice with a bad attitude or gave a poor effort. Not once.
Barber, whose mother, Kathy, served as her coach at state, said that’s because she’s experienced success, and she understands the joy that comes along with reaching her expectations.
“I set goals for myself and I know what it feels like to achieve my goal,” she said. “I see my goal, and I want to be able to reach it.”
In order to attain her ambition, Barber said it’s imperative that she’s ready before each race, whether it’s a preliminary run or the finals of the state championship. Her method of preparation might seem a bit odd to some, but the routine certainly has worked well thus far.
“I listen to music, and I’ll go back into a corner and jump up and down non-stop for 15, 20 (minutes), sometimes a half-hour to get my heart rate going. For myself, it calms me, but everyone else probably thinks I’m crazy,” Barber said with a laugh. “I’ve just always found that for me, personally, when my heart rate it is beating faster and I’m more anxious for my race, that I’ve always performed better than when I am sitting around not doing much.”
There must have been a lot of jumping going on last weekend. Out of 160 qualifiers, she was the lone freshman left when the field dwindled down to the final eight in each event.
Murphy credits her poise and humble attitude for the strong showing. She said that while Barber is extremely confident and can dominate most of her competition, she’s never cocky or boasting about her accomplishments. That mindset has put Barber at ease in key situations.
“It doesn’t matter if she’s swimming in a pond or at Bucknell,” Murphy said. “It wouldn’t matter if she was on an outside lane or an inside lane. And that’s a big thing, you always want the inside lanes, but with her, she truly means that it doesn’t matter what lane she’s in. She can do it.
“Not a whole lot gets to her. We know to stay away from her when she’s in that mode. You just let her focus and get ready.”
Now that the high school events are over, Barber is moving on to the YMCA state and national competitions. She won a YMCA state title in the 100 breaststroke last year, and she claimed another one two years ago in the 50-yard breaststroke. She’s competed at the YMCA nationals for the past two years and is on pace for a third. Murphy said Barber has qualified in as many as five events, but swimmers only are allowed to compete in three, so she has to pick and choose.
It’s just another example of Barber’s superb talent.
“She’s probably as mature as some 20-year-olds in my opinion,” Murphy said. “She knows what she wants and she goes for it. I’ve never seen someone so dedicated toward something in my life. And I’ve been coaching for a while.”
THE LAUREN BARBER FILE
EVENTS: 100-yard breastroke, 200 freestyle
KNOWN FOR: Barber is one of the premier freshman swimmers in Pennsylvania. She was the only freshman to compete in the finals at the PIAA Class AA Swimming and Diving Championships, where she finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke and third in the 200-yard freestyle.
PARENTS: Kathy and Tom Barber.
FAVORITE SWIMMER AND WHY: Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin. “Michael Phelps is just a really hard worker. You saw at the last Olympics, he went out and got eight gold medals and reached his goal. And Natalie Coughlin — she’s a girl and she’s one of the best swimmers out there.”