As a freshman at Century in 2016, Luke Thornbrue appeared poised to become the next great Oregon high school swimmer.
He dominated the 6A championship meet, winning the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, and was in position to shatter state records before he finished his career with the Jaguars.
Except Thornbrue did not compete for his high school as a sophomore and junior, opting instead to focus on training with his Hillsboro HEAT club team.
Now a senior, Thornbrue once again is wearing Century colors. And the Notre Dame commit is likely to make a giant splash.
“Now that I’ve decided where I’m going to college, I feel like there’s a little less pressure on me,” Thornbrue said. “It’s just kind of a fun thing to do, so I wanted to do it again this year. Kind of finish off my senior year with my friends from school.
“Because I didn’t swim the last two years, I don’t really know many people on the team. But I’m getting to know them. It’s fun having my school friends that don’t swim come to the meets and watch.”
Having a swimmer of Thornbrue’s caliber on the team is a novelty for the Jaguars.
“We don’t have a lot of experienced swimmers, and I don’t think we’re going to win a lot of dual meets, but it’s really cool for all the kids to watch him,” coach Wayne Bohm said. “He came out and did one dive and blew by everybody.
“It seems to me like a great opportunity to support your school and wear your school colors, and go out there and kick some butt. I feel like we’re moving into a weird era of kids not doing high school sports and doing other things.”
Thornbrue has evolved into a national-caliber swimmer. In the Speedo Winter Junior Championships West last month in Austin, Texas, he placed sixth in both the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle and seventh in the 1,650 freestyle.
His personal bests in the 200 freestyle (1:37.36) and 500 freestyle (4:23.82) are faster than the all-time OSAA meet records of 1:38.43 (Brett Nagle, David Douglas, 2008) and 4:25.21 (Cameron Stitt, Sunset, 2013).
He set Century records in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle as a freshman and could rewrite the entire school record book this season. He broke the mark in the 100 butterfly in a meet last month, and his best times in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 IM are better than the school records.
“He wants to swim two different events at each meet and try to break a school record at every one,” Bohm said.
Thornbrue’s biggest challenge will come at state, where he will square off against Jesuit senior Trent Martinez, the two-time reigning champion in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle. Thornbrue beat the USC-bound Martinez in both races at the state meet when they were freshmen.
“We know each other really well,” Thornbrue said. “We’ve known each other for a long time because we’ve swam club against each other since we were like 10 years old. It’s always fun to race against him because it’s always a good race.”
Thornbrue had many options for college before settling on Notre Dame, a top-20 program. He said that the recruiting process was a “stressful experience.”
“I wanted to go somewhere that really wanted me and appreciated my value, what I could contribute to the team,” Thornbrue said. “That’s ultimately why I chose Notre Dame because I feel like they really saw my potential and what I could contribute to the team.”
Thornbrue will be a teammate of Zach Yeadon, who placed third in the mile in the NCAA championships as a freshman last year.
“That’s my primary event. I’m looking forward to being able to train with him,” he said.
Thornbrue’s sister, Ellie, is a senior captain on the team at Brigham Young. She was a standout swimmer at Century, where she won seven individual state titles and led the Jaguars to 6A championships in 2014 and 2015. The two are very close, according to Luke.
“She’s always just told me to do whatever is best for me,” Luke said. “She told me that it’s always a really fun experience to swim for your high school. She has been supportive of whatever I’ve chosen to do.”