Swimmers Start Season Strong

Senior+Gabrielle+Jenkins+%27flys%27+down+the+pool%2C+placing+second+at+the+Cat+Fight.

Nico Heye

Senior Gabrielle Jenkins 'flys' down the pool, placing second at the Cat Fight.

Following back-to-back wins at the Tiger Invitational and the Cat Fight, the defending champions and state runners up are peaking at the right time as championship swimming is upon them. 

“After winning state last year, we knew we had to make a statement in our first couple meets this year, especially after losing a strong senior class,”senior David Reynolds said. 

The men’s team dominated the Tiger Invitational with some of the fastest times in Arkansas. Seniors Nathan Bright and Elliot Labeau became the top two breaststrokers in the state. 

“Two years ago when we won it was about proving ourselves. Last year was about revenge. This year is about developing a winning culture on this team,” senior Elliot Labeau said. 

This The men’s team has reached excellence  through their consistency in breaststrokers and distance swimmers. The Tigers currently sit first and second in the state in both the 500 free and the 100 breaststroke, respectively. 

Despite these wins the team remains focused on the final two meets of the season: Conference and 6A State. This would be the third consecutive year  the Tigers have gone undefeated, tying them for the fourth longest winning streak in 6A swimming history.

“I have only lost two meets in the past four years. These guys want to win. At Conference and the State Championship we always walk into the meet down by at least 40 points due to Central not having any male divers. I think this has helped keep us from being overconfident or underestimating by always having to fight from behind,”  Bright said. 

Last year the men’s team walked into the 6A State Championship down 55 points and had to fight to win the meet. A large part of this comeback victory was a result of some key swims from freshman Joel Chung and Yousef Bahgat.

 “Winning these past two meets gave the team a good confidence boost heading into the final stretch of the season,” Bahgat said.

Chung entered the meet as the 15th seed in the 100 fly Although projected to only score two points, Chung finished seventh overall scoring 12 points for the team. Bahgat was part of the largest point swing in the past 10 years as the Tigers scored 64 points in a single event.

“Swimming is a unique sport. Your record doesn’t matter. Any team can win Conference or State, so we look at these meets as trial runs, how we are feeling with our lineups, how we place against other power house teams, and most importantly how we score when it’s all said and done,” head coach Mary Jo Heye said.

But it wasn’t all about the men’s team as the two time state runner up; lady Tigers had a field day with  every other team that attended the Tiger Invitational and the Cat Fight. Sophomore Ainsley Jenkins proved to be a workhorse for the lady Tigers, winning both the 200 free and 500 free, placing her top in the state in both events. She has not slowed down after an impressive freshman season, finishing third in the 500 free. 

“I love having Ainsley on this team. Realistically we could swim her in four or five events. She is always willing to step up and swim whatever she needs to and consistently performs at a high level,” Heye said.

Ainsley wasn’t the only Jenkins dominating. Her older sister, senior Gabrielle Jenkins, won the 100 backstroke at both the Tiger Invitational and the Cat Fight, becoming the top ranked female backstroker in the state.
“Last year it was very exciting to have the guys to go back-to-back, but it was bittersweet because as the men’s team celebrated, the girls team had just fallen short, but with a strong senior class and some new firepower as we enter the final two meets both teams have the same mindset: win or go home,” Heye said.