From the Bahamas to Small Town Arkansas: Lamar Taylor Challenges Division II Swimming Misconceptions

Lamar Taylor

From the Bahamas to Small Town Arkansas: Lamar Taylor Challenges Division II Swimming Misconceptions

When I mention I had a swimmer on my podcast who is a 19.04 in the 50 free, a 42.30 in the 100 free, and a 45.95 in the 100 back, one might assume he’s swimming for one of the blue bloods in the sport. Cal, Texas or NC State? Nope. Lamar Taylor swims Division II for Henderson State.

To understand how a guy from the Bahamas ended up at Henderson State and managed to post top-tier times across all of collegiate swimming, I invited Taylor on for an episode of the “Last One Fast One” Podcast.

Bahamian and Caribbean Swim Culture

Taylor’s Journey started in Freeport, Bahamas, a small city on the Northwest section of the Island of Grand Bahama, where he grew up. According to Taylor, swimming is not the biggest sport in the Bahamas; instead, it’s track, baseball and basketball that rule the country. However, Taylor started learning to swim at the age of 2, eventually finding his way into competitive swimming. By 13, Taylor began to take swimming seriously. The Bahamian swimming community was small, but Taylor’s swimming community was not just Bahamians but also swimmers across the entire Caribbean.

“We all grew up swimming at this same meet, the CARIFTA… Me, Jordan (Crooks) and Jeron (Thompson) have met at those meets and swam against each other,” Taylor said.

To Taylor his fellow Caribbeans were not just competitors but also friends.

“Caribbean swimmers are the minority; they’re the small group of swimmers, so when one of the Caribbean guys makes a semi-finals or finals, all of the Caribbean guys watch and support each other; it’s one big family,” Taylor said.

Unique Journey to Henderson State

In his teenage years, to get his name out there, Taylor made an account on College Swimming’s Swim Cloud, but for many college coaches, it was a challenge to grasp Taylor’s talent, as yards aren’t a thing in the Bahamas. 

 “In the Bahamas, we don’t have any yards swimming at all. We just have long course or short course meters,” Taylor said. “Posting my long course meters times on Swim Cloud didn’t really gain that much attraction.”

Taylor had some D-I and D-II schools interested, but none offered much, except Henderson State. Henderson State took Taylor on a recruiting visit, where Taylor explained he was shown a lot of love and appreciation and offered a scholarship he couldn’t turn down. Taylor arrived at Henderson State in the fall of 2020, but when Taylor arrived, the culture and environment in Arkadelphia, Ark., took some adjusting. 

“In the Bahamas, since we’re so small, we kind of keep it straightforward and don’t beat around the bush, but when I came to America, I realized I can’t be as straightforward and blunt as I usually am back at home,” Taylor said. 

However, Taylor not only had to adjust to new communication norms but also to Arkansas’s landscape. 

“In the Bahamas, one of the things we are known for is having beautiful beaches and clear waters, and coming here and seeing the lakes and seeing it a little murky. I was like, ‘Y’all swim in that?’ It was kind of a funny thing,” Taylor said.

Swimming at Henderson State

In Taylor’s freshman year for the Reddies, he impressed in the 50 free (19.86), 100 free (44.11) and 100 back (47.29), and he kept getting faster. Last year, at the age of 19, considered young for a college junior, Taylor posted a 19.04 50 free, a 42.30 100 free and a 45.95 in the 100 back at the Division II national championships, winning national titles in all three. Taylor’s 19.04 would have been good enough to B final at the Division I Championships, and 42.30 would have made the cutline in the 100 free, an incredible accomplishment for any collegiate swimmer. A critical piece of Taylor’s success is his coach, Scotty Serio, and his training approach.

“One thing I would say that we’re doing probably different than a lot of other schools is that Scotty listens to his athletes,” Taylor said.

Taylor noted that many coaches can get a general idea of how their athletes feel, but Serio takes it to the next level. According to Taylor, Serio will even go as far as to take suggestions and feedback on sets throughout practice.

It’s evident that Serio’s relationship with his athletes is very personal and attentive, and it clearly is working. This past season, Serio was named the New South Intercollegiate Swim Conference’s Men’s Swimming Coach of the Year, and he led the Reddies to a program-record 200 points at the Division II national championships.

In addition to his coach, Taylor’s teammates have played a role into the swimmer he is today. Those teammates include Jack Armstrong, who like Taylor is one of the best sprinters in Division II. This past season, Armstrong posted best times in the 50 free (19.21) and 100 free (42.55). Taylor and Armstrong are competitors and push each other all season.

“Jack is a very competitive person, and we argue all the time, but it’s not because we hate each other. It’s because we care about each other so much and want to see each other get better,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Armstrong will once again spearhead a commonly overlooked Henderson State team for the 2023-2024 season.

“We always laugh about that. You’ve got the two fastest people in the country in Division II right now, and guess where we’re from? A small town in Arkansas. Nobody’s ever heard about it; nobody knows about it,” Taylor said.

Paris 2024

Outside of collegiate swimming, Taylor has made a name for himself on the international stage. He most recently competed at the 2023 World Championships and at the Pan American Games. One of Taylor’s biggest goals is to represent the Bahamas in the Olympics.
“It would mean the whole world to me to go to the Olympics and represent the Bahamas. It’s always been my life goal,” Taylor said. “It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was about seven or eight when I watched the 2012 Olympics Games, where the Bahamas won the four-by-four relay in track.”
To qualify for the Olympics, Taylor must either hit an Olympic cut or have the highest-ranked World Aquatics points in an event among fellow country members. The latter will only occur if a swimmer in the Bahamas doesn’t hit an Olympic cut. In that case, Taylor could still qualify for the Olympics if he had the highest-ranked World Aquatics points of all events and swimmers in the Bahamas, but the Bahamas are only granted one male and one female in the latter process. This policy was enacted to get representation from smaller countries at the Olympics. Taylor, however, is gunning for the Olympic A cut.
“That’s what my eyes are set on right now, just getting the A cut. I don’t want to go through the whole [World Aquatics] points process. I just want to get my A cut and automatically be named to the team,” Taylor said.
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