OCEAN — Will Barker put a ribbon on one of the best swimming careers in county history Friday at the 1A/2A state meet.
The Croatan senior collected two more gold medals to give him nine state championships in a stellar four years. He earned 13 top-three state finishes.
“I remember freshman year thinking it was crazy I was going to get a ring, and now I have quite a few,” Barker said. “It’s crazy how fast time flies. This was my last states, and it feels like it was just my freshman year. I would have been happy with that one ring for sure.”
Barker was a part of the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay state title teams as a freshman. He went on to win three more gold medals as a relay participant at Croatan and earned four individual state championships.
Last year, he joined Colby Loveless, Jack McCabe and Matthew McCray in the 200-yard freestyle relay to also set a new 1A/2A state record of 1:27.07, eclipsing the previous mark of 1:27.15 set by Carrboro in 2012.
“I definitely would have been happy with it if someone told me this is the career I was going to have when I was a freshman,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have believed it, though.”
His senior year was unlike any of the others. He won two individual crowns for the first time at a state meet, sweeping the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke.
“I was super excited,” Barker said. “It went exactly how I planned it to go. It was a little weird the way they had us spaced out in the lanes and some other different stuff, but it all worked out.”
There were no preliminary races and swimmers had an empty lane on each side of them due to coronavirus protocols. Those disruptions to swimmers’ normal routines hardly seemed to bother Barker.
He won the 100 back-stroke in an All-American time of 48.75 and took the 100 freestyle in an All-American Consideration time of 45.29. He also captured All-American times last year in those same events.
“I was really happy with my times,” Barker said. “Normally, you can kind of judge where you are and how fast you’re going by seeing those beside you. I just the had the mindset to go as fast as I could.”
He won each race fairly comfortably, taking the 100 freestyle by nearly three-tenths of a second over Carrboro’s Will Thompson (46.58) and the 100 back-stroke by almost six-tenths of a second over Nash Central’s Lance Norris (48.75)
“I was racing a good friend I’ve been swimming against since I was 8 or 9 in the back,” Barker said. “Knowing it was my last state meet, I told him, ‘Dude, there is no way I’m going to let you take this from me.’”
Barker won two state titles apiece in his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons and three as a junior. He won back-to-back 100 backstroke championships as a junior and senior, and sandwiched a runner-up finish in the 100 freestyle as a junior between state rings in that event as a sophomore and senior.
That kind of résumé made him the object of attention by many college recruiters. He considered Tennessee, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Queens University of Charlotte before deciding on UNC-Wilmington.
“I am beyond excited about going to UNCW,” he said. “I’m looking forward to joining my recruiting class. I think we are a really fast class. I think we will make UNCW super quick.”
Bobby Guntoro, currently in his first year as coach of the Seahawks, signed a class that includes student-athletes from five states, including three from North Carolina, and boasts several ranked among the top recruits in their states.
Barker said it was a tough decision that came down to UNCW and Tennessee, which has finished in the nation’s top 20 in each of the past seven seasons, including consecutive 11th-place finishes in 2018 and 2019.
“Tennessee is a team that is always on top,” Barker said. “I visited there and really enjoyed it. I thought it was the place for me. But the more I waited, I found the perfect match for me at UNCW, so I’m glad I waited it out.”
Barker said he isn’t sure about his college major but is interested in business.
He’ll play lacrosse this spring and take part in a few club swim meets before reporting to UNCW in the fall.
Here are a few of Barker’s favorite things, as well as his ideal group with which to eat dinner and the five items he would take with him on a deserted island:
Favorite Movie: “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
Favorite TV Show: “The Office.”
Favorite Cartoon: “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Favorite Band/Artist: J. Cole
Favorite Song: “Middle Child” by J. Cole.
Favorite Book: The Bible.
Favorite Team: Carolina Panthers.
Favorite Athlete: Michael Phelps.
Favorite Vacation: Florida.
Favorite Hobby: Fishing and surfing.
Favorite Subject: History.
Favorite Quote: “No guts, no glory, no legend, no story.”
Favorite Food: Fried chicken.
Favorite Drink: Dr. Pepper.
Favorite Restaurant: Chick-fil-A.
Favorite Season: Summer.
Favorite Teacher: Mr. Johnathon Rigsby.
Favorite Sport: Swimming.
Favorite Pre-Game/Post-Game Ritual: Praying.
Favorite Website/App: Spotify.
Favorite Follow On Twitter/Instagram: Fail Army.
Ideal Dinner Guest List: Donald Trump, Jesus, Will Ferrell, mom and dad.
Items For A Deserted Island: My mom’s purse, hammock, boat, Chick-fil-A and Fiji water.