Few people know about Nutley High School’s swimming program, let alone the fact that it is home of one of Essex County’s top swimmers. Nead Kojic is trying to change that
On January 16, Kojic not only made history, but hopes he helped create more awareness and participation for the sport within Nutley.
Kojic became Nutley’s first Essex County Champion in swimming when he took first place in the 100 Yard Breaststroke at the SEC/ECADA Swimming Championships held at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
His time of 58.77, a personal best, was nearly a half-second faster than second place finisher Colin Ko of West Essex.
For his performance Kojic is almost certainly the first Nutley swimmer ever to be named The Observer Athlete of the Week.
“I really hope it pushes more (people to try swimming). To see that there are good swimmers on the team, people who are succeeding in their events,” said Kojic, a 6-foot-3, 195 pound senior. “It could push people to try it on their own because swimming is a great sport for all kinds of exercise, it’s one of the best workouts you can get. For more people to join it and create a bigger Nutley team that has a full season with dual meets. It would be great if I could help do that.”
As one of just three students to sign up for swimming in the school, Nutley’s participation numbers are far short of the amount needed to field a formal team and compete in dual meets alongside other schools.
For Kojic and others, that means there are only two times during the high school season where they represent Nutley in competition: at the Essex County Championships and, if they record a qualifying time, at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions at the end of the year.
As a result, the majority of Kojic’s swimming during the winter – as well as the rest of the year – is done with his club team, the Montclair YMCA. Kojic said being with his club instead of a high school team during the season isn’t that bad because plenty of other swimmers throughout the state are in similar situations.
Kojic said he practices at the Montclair YMCA six days a week, usually for two hours a day. While it certainly prepares him physically, the lack of a traditional high school team and season doesn’t make it difficult to prepare for the opposition at a meet like the Essex County Championships.
In fact, it wasn’t until the pre-meet sheet with times and lane assignments were handed out that day that Kojic knew he was the top seed in the 100 Breaststroke.
“Before the meet started they released site sheets which are almost like rankings of who is in what spot and who is the top ranked swimmer for each event. I saw myself seeded first and my expectations were that pressure was put on me now,” said Kojic. You can’t be first on that and then not live up to those standards. Those are on top of the expectations that I also put on myself to be better and achieve what I want.”
Sure enough, Kojic did just that. For nearly a year, he had been trying to get his time in the event under 59 seconds. His previous best in the event this season for Montclair YMCA was 59.47 seconds, which ranked 12th in the state this season on the club circuit according to swimmingrank.com.
“Results wise, the time was my best yet,” Kojic said. “Since going under a minute last year, I had not been able to go under 59 seconds until that meet.
“I was very excited because I put pressure on myself to win it and I went out there and I got what I wanted. I put all the effort in and I got the result that I came for. It was exhilarating. There was a feeling that you get when you finally achieve it that’s like relief. A ‘I made it!’ type of feeling.”
Kojic already has submitted a time good enough to qualify for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, which is set for March 4-5 at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, which is the next time he’ll be representing Nutley in the pool.
Other goals Kojic has include placing in the top eight at the YMCA Nationals later this year and swimming in college.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)