A swimming success: Rowan sophomore wins two national titles

A swimming success: Rowan sophomore wins two national titles

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Jesse Novak calls it “the zone.”

“Everything just clicks…and you know it,” the sophomore member of the Profs men’s swimming and diving team says.

“It feels easy. The stroke feels powerful. You don’t feel tired. You feel like you could hold your breath for years. You’re not thinking about how tired you are. You’re not thinking about anything. All of your energy is in the pool.”

Last month, Novak found “the zone”—twice. He has two national Division III championships to show for it.

The 20-year-old became the first Rowan swimmer in nearly 40 years—and only the second swimmer in the program’s history--to win two Division III titles when he won both the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle at the NCAA Division III Men's Swimming and Diving Championships in Shenandoah, Texas.

Novak, who earned All-America honors, is the first Rowan swimmer to win the 50 freestyle championship. Joe Sansone won two national titles for Rowan in 1976.

En route to winning the titles, Novak, a health promotion and fitness management major from Bridgewater, set two school records. He won the 50 freestyle in 19.89, but set a school record in the preliminaries at 19.82. Two days later, he went out and brought home the 100 freestyle championship in 43.68.

‘.02 seconds…you can’t even blink that fast.'

The victories were especially sweet for Novak, who last year missed qualifying for the national championships’ 50 freestyle event by .02 seconds.

“I was really, really upset last year that I missed the time,” he says. “.02 seconds…you can’t even blink that fast. I said to myself, ‘What do I need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’”

A self-described swim nerd—“I don’t take that as an insult at all,” he says—Novak last summer rededicated himself to the sport he loves and has competed in since the age of nine, when he was a member of the Middlesex Water Rats.

Last summer, he spent three months at SwimMAC in Charlotte, N.C., where Olympic gold medalists like Ryan Lochte and Cullen Jones train. The intense focus on swimming—on things like technique, his kick, starts, turns—made a huge difference.

“In three months, I dropped a lot of time. They showed me what I needed to work on. The biggest thing was my kick. If you have powerful legs, you can just fly,” says Novak, a Rowan Scholar Athlete.

Big goals

When he returned to Rowan for his sophomore year last fall, he set goals…big goals.

“On move-in day, I made my bed and sat down and wrote down some goals—19.84 for the 50 free and 43.96 for the 100 free,” he says. “At the nationals, I ended up at 19.82 in the 50 preliminaries and 43.68 in the 100 finals.

“I’m trying to be the best Division III swimmer I can be,” continues Novak, who consumes 5,000 calories a day, something, he says, that’s more difficult than it sounds. “I was half a second off of the national Division III record in both events this year.

“My priority now is to defend the titles. My second goal is to break the national record. My third is to find a third event and compete in and win that.”

Fierce competitor

Novak’s work ethic—he trains nearly four hours a day twice a week, two hours a day the rest of the week and does weight room work four times a week—is stellar, says Brad Bowser, who is in his first year coaching the Profs. Couple that hard work with an intense competitive nature and it’s a formula for success, Bowser says.

“He’s the all-around hardworking, never-gives-up type of swimmer. He has the attitude that he’s always going to win,” Bowser says. “He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever met. He’s extremely driven. He wants to be the best swimmer in Division III in the history of sprints. He’s definitely capable of achieving that.”

According to Bowser, Novak was the 72nd fastest in the nation in his events. Everyone faster was either a Division I or Division II swimmer, the coach says.

Save for having a good feeling going in, his victorious splashes, his wave to his coach after each race and his exhaustion, Novak doesn’t remember much about his two winning races. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, he says.

“In the 100, as soon as I dove in, I felt great. I remember pushing off and thinking, ‘I can win this.’

“When I won, I didn’t know what to do. Everything I’d been working toward, I accomplished. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get back to work to defend it.’ Being the national champion is more stress…and more motivation.”

Just keep winning

Also on the horizon is a potential run at the Olympic trials, which Novak says is a long way off. Still, it’s in his thoughts, something to shoot—and plan--for, he says.

“I could qualify this summer or next summer. But I have a long way to go to get to that level,” he cautions.

“I have to get older and I have to get stronger. If I keep swimming and training, I could have another eight to 10 years in the sport. My big shot would be for the 2020 games—or past that.”

For now, the goal is repeating as national champion in his two events and in helping the Profs win a national relay title.

“My goal, honestly, is winning the most national titles I can. That’s the dream: Just keep winning.”