Tom Batters
Becky Stoughton

Becky Stoughton laughed and said, “Hey, who changed the rules?” to her coach Derek Amerman, during a game of water polo. “I thought we weren’t allowed to throw the ball with two hands.”

Amerman squatted toward the edge of the pool so he could get closer to Stoughton, and said in a loud, dramatic voice, “There are no rules! Well, expect for one. You can’t lean on the wall. So, stop complaining and play the game, Stoughton. Stop causing trouble.”

Amerman has known Stoughton, a sophomore on the Peoria Notre Dame swimming team, since she was eight years old. They often exchange sarcastic jabs.

“We have developed a bond over the years,” Amerman said. “Ever since she was a little kid, she has had that ability to brighten your day. If you’re having a bad day, she can always find a way to make you smile. She’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Amerman said Stoughton turns into a different person on the starting block. The jovial personality is replaced with a fierce competitiveness.

“She gets that look right before a race,” he said. “She just stares down at the water with an intense expression, and you can tell she is so focused. That’s one of the things I like about her. She is very competitive. She expects to win every race.”

Stoughton broke three school records last year as a freshmen. She finished third at the state meet in the 100-butterfly and 11th in the 200-freestyle.

When asked if he was surprised that a freshman was able to break three school records and compete with the best swimmers in the state, Amerman said, “No. Not at all. In fact, I expected her to have that much success as a freshman. I didn’t really look at her as a freshman. She has competed against these girls for years.”

Stoughton started swimming, reluctantly, when she was eight years old.

“I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “My brother (Dan) was going to try it, so my parents said that I should try it, too. But, I remember thinking, ‘Just let him do it, why should I have to do it, too?’”

Without any lessons and just two weeks of practice, she competed in her first meet and finished second.

That was enough of that.

“I wanted to win,” she said. “I didn’t like finishing second.”

She swam for the Dunlap Dolphins swim club. Amerman coached the older girls for the Dolphins, but he quickly became Stoughton’s favorite coach.

“I had great coaches there, but I always wanted to swim for Derek. That was my motivation when I was with the Dolphins. I wanted to get better and swim for Derek someday,” she said. “He had such a great personality. He made it fun to come to the pool. But, he also did so much to help his swimmers improve. I learned a lot from him when I was younger, and I still learn a lot from him now.”

Stoughton stayed with the Dolphins for about a year. That is where she met her close friend, fellow ND swimmer Lauren Lambrecht (the school record holder in the 100-breaststroke).

Stoughton and Lambrecht swim on the 200-medley relay team that qualified for state last year, but failed to advance to the finals.

Taking that relay team a step further is one of Stoughton’s goals for this year. Stoughton is also on the 400-freestyle relay team, which qualified for state.

“I really want to get a relay team to Saturday (the final day of State) this year,” she said. “We’ve come close. I think we can do it.”

She said she also wants to improve her school record times and go even further at State in her individual events.

“I’m shooting for top three at State,” she said.

Amerman said state titles in the 200-free or 100-butterfly are possible.

“She had a very good summer. She trained really hard.” he said. “I know what she is capable of. She’s such a dynamic swimmer. It wouldn’t surprise me if she achieves all her goals.”

Stoughton qualified for the Junior Nationals in the 100-butterfly, and she lowered most of her record times this summer, Amerman said.

The Peoria Notre Dame girls team, which qualified for the state meet last year, opened practice last week at Woodruff High School with a team meeting, followed by an impromptu game of water polo.

The sophomores and seniors were on one team against the juniors and freshmen.

Amerman set up two chairs at each end of the pool. Any player who threw the ball in between the chairs was credited with a goal, but only if Amerman gave the official word.

“Nope, that was too high,” he said, laughing, after one ball went in between the chairs.

“It’s a fun way to get the season started,” he said. “These girls all get a long so well. It’s nice to get them in the pool for some fun before we start our heavy workload.”

Ten seniors, including Jordan Ambrose (a member of two school record relay teams) graduated, but Notre Dame returns several top swimmers including state qualifiers Lambrecht, Paige Sauder, Taylor Streid and Nicole Miller.

“We should have a pretty good season,” Amerman said. “We have a lot of talented swimmers back from last year.”

Notre Dame opens its season Sept. 4 at Pekin.