Jonathan Novinski couldn’t believe it at first.
The Grand Island Senior High senior was in awe when he heard Harvard, an Ivy League school, wanted him to go swim for it.
“I was like ‘no way. Harvard wants me?’” Novinski said. “It was like I was living a dream.”
That dream became a reality as the Grand Island Central Catholic student signed a letter of intent to swim for the Crimson in front of family and friends Thursday at the Howard Schumann gym at GICC.
“I’m really excited for this next opportunity,” Novinski said.
Grand Island coach Brian Jensen said it’s a big deal for Novinski to sign with Harvard as an athlete and a student.
“You have Harvard on your resume, most people will hire you,” he said. “You get that opportunity, it’s hard to pass up. It’s a win-win as an athlete and definitely a student.”
Novinski is part of a family tradition of swimmers competing at the Division I level. His parents swam for Nebraska, while older brother Matthew swims for Wisconsin. Oldest brother Daniel also swam for Nebraska Wesleyan.
Harvard got interested in Novinski after he competed at the YMCA National Meet his sophomore year. He took trips to Wisconsin, Florida State and TCU. He just felt Harvard was the right place for him.
“The Harvard coaches basically said that they have been watching me for a while,” he said. “That basically started the recruiting process, which was pretty hectic because a lot of the other schools wanted to know my decision around my junior year and I wasn’t comfortable as I wasn’t ready yet.
“I went for a visit early during my junior year and I just simply loved it.”
Jensen said he thinks Novinski will do well for Harvard.
“He has a great work ethic and has had one during his entire career here,” he said. “He inspires others to do the same.
“He’s got the genes as his parents were good swimmers, while his older brothers were good swimmers too.”
However, Novinski isn’t quite ready to think about Harvard just quite yet.
He still has the state swimming meet to think about. Novinski has a chance to do something his older brother Matthew accomplished — being a four-time champion.
Novinski is the three-time defending champion in the 500 freestyle. Novinski, who set the event’s state record of 4:32.04 during the 2019 state meet, has the second-best time at 4:40.04 this season.
He said he’s excited for his opportunity, even though he hasn’t felt the greatest. He missed a few meets this season because of illness.
“I think that’s cool and I think seeing someone outside of Omaha and Lincoln getting an opportunity to do that is great for Nebraska swimming,” Novinski said. “This year has had its ups and downs as I don’t feel phenomenal. Some days I feel super fatigued and some days I feel great. I really can’t wait to see how I can do this weekend.”
Novinski is one of five Islander boys to qualify in individual events. Michael Sambula-Monzalvo (200 freestyle; 500 freestyle) Kai Wilson (200 freestyle; 500 freestyle), Luke Dankert (200 IM; 100 breaststroke) and Jordan Winton (100 butterfly) are those qualifiers. All three relay teams (200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle) qualified as well.
Jensen said he’s excited to see what the Islanders can do, especially in the 500 freestyle. While Novinski has the second-best time, Wilson has the fourth-fastest (4:51.09), while Sambula-Monzalvo has the fifth (4:51.69).
“We have three swimmers in the top five in that event so we’re excited to see what we can do there,” Jensen said. “Kai and Luke were both Heartland Athletic Conference champions in the 500 freestyle and 200 IM and they have a chance to medal very high in those events.
“Michael has come around and Jordan qualified to state for the first time and he did it as a senior. That’s exciting. And our relays have a chance to do something as well. I really think they are ready.”
The Islander girls qualified Jonathan’s younger sister Kathryn Novinski (100 freestyle, 100 backstroke), as well as Gracie Wilson (200 IM), Lilly Brennan (200 IM, 100 backstroke), Ashlyn Muhlbach (100 butterfly) and Reagan Greer (500 freestyle). And just like the boys, the girls qualified in all three relay events.
Jensen said he brings a young girls team as there are no seniors swimming at state.
“We have the three freshmen in Kate, Gracie and Lilly. I want to see what the whole team can do and hopefully they can keep improving, as with the boys,” Jensen said. “Most of them are beginning their high school careers and I want them to gain experience and hopefully come home with some medals.”