A sixth New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Rookie of the Week award for Kevin Yanagisawa might not come to a surprise to some. But what came to a surprise for Yanagisawa himself, were the t-shirts that came with it.
The Rowan men’s swimming and diving team had just won their third consecutive NJAC title, sweeping the conference yet again. And there the rookie was, unaware of his team’s accomplishment until his championship t-shirt was handed to him.
Talk about being a Rowan swimming and diving program rookie.
With their sustained dominance within the NJAC, Rowan has drawn high-profile comparisons. When asked if his team winning the NJAC has become akin to the New England Patriots dominance within the AFC East (they have won it for a decade straight), head coach Brad Bowser acknowledged the obvious hyperbole but did not deny the notion.
“We don’t really put a lot of attention to [the NJAC title],” Bowser said. “We used to when I first started. We used to put a lot of attention to it just because it was a rivalry. In the last year or so I’ve really come to putting focus to the end of the season, [the] NCAA’s. We put a lot of focus towards the [Metropolitan] Conference Championship. That I guess you could look at as being the AFC Championship and then the NCAA’s being sort of the Super Bowl.”
Even with a team that may not have looked the way some expected it to at the beginning of the season, Bowser says his expectations are always for the team to compete at their highest level and wants them to do anything in their power to make the team better. And, armed with a slew of underclassmen talent that includes Yanagisawa, it’s no wonder the team has preformed the way it has.
“Our best guys are sophomores,” Bowser said. “Kevin Gillooly, he’s the standout [underclassman] but he was the standout last year. In terms of freshmen surprising me, it’s Kevin Yanagisawa. I’ve given him every single challenge possible and he’s been able to step up.”
The freshman took first in the 500 freestyle, second in both the 200 butterfly and 1000 freestyle. His time of 9:54.70 in the 1000 free marked a career best.
“Going in I felt pretty good,” Yanagisawa said. “I knew I was kind of sore from the training trip and the previous meet, but I felt good because of the whole team environment and how everyone was psyched up for this meet and how, as a whole, we knew we had to win and there was nothing stopping us from winning. We were ready to go.”
The 1000 freestyle came down to the wire and was decided by less than a second. The 200 butterfly was another nail-biter that was decided by less than half of a second. Yanagisawa also split a 50.30 second 100 yards in the 400 freestyle relay.
The team-first mindset isn’t limited to just Kevin either. Senior captains Dave Smits and Dan Lawton keep the team running like a family and come with high praise from others.
“It’s a family thing, of course,” Yanagisawa said. “But then my captains, I always look up to them. Dave [Smits] especially because, no matter what we’re doing, its always high energy and it’s ‘don’t give up no matter what you’re feeling.’ Because, when he’s there [beat up and tired], but he’s still going out there and saying ‘We [have] to do this. We [have] to put ourselves out there to separate ourselves from the others so that we’re the best.’ That really helped me.”
Bowser commented on how he has embraced his team in a way that is bigger than sports. When asked what he has learned from this team, Bowser has learned to be patient, letting the younger swimmers come into their own. He has also learned this year that he has to enjoy the time he has with the team saying, in his four years coaching the players, he’s not preparing them for the next level of their swimming careers. Instead, Bowser’s molding them into being young adults.
The Profs travel to Kings Point, New York on Saturday for a meet against the Unites States Merchant Marine Academy, but their eyes are set ahead to the AFC Championship Game. They’ll be in Piscataway, New Jersey on Feb. 22 for the Metropolitan Conference Championship, which they’ve also won the last three years.
The goal of being the best public school in the nation is within reach for both sets of Prof swimmers, men and women, according to Bowser.
Regarding what it’ll take to make that a reality, Yanagisawa comes with one thing in mind.
“We all knew that our only goal was just to touch the wall first,” Yanagisawa said. “It’s all a mental game. You just have to push through… [two to three years from now] I hope we’re talking about breaking records on the board. Not just individual, but also some medley records where I can be a fundamental part of breaking that record and just not even contemplating ‘Are we going to win NJAC or not?’ It’s just a given.”
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