“A cut above the rest”: swimmer Devon Nowicki pursues his magic number


Freshman Devon Nowicki holds his kickboard, which is adorned with his goal for the 100 yard breaststroke.

Sam Schlenner

The NCAA DI Swimming and Diving Championships will begin March 23 at Georgia Tech’s Aquatic Center in Atlanta. Oakland freshman Devon Nowicki will be there.

His Olympic trial cut in the 100-yard breaststroke is late June in Omaha.

Oakland swimming and diving head coach Pete Hovland first purposely saw Devon Nowicki swim in person at an Oakland County boys meet during the latter’s sophomore year of high school. Later, swim coaches at major schools around the country might have wished they’d caught the six-foot-five swimmer so early.

“When he just jumps in the water, you can kind of see the fluidity, how smooth, the distance he travels underwater,” Hovland said.

He’s 18, but his mechanics are not green.

“Technically,” Hovland said, “he’s as good as anybody I’ve had.”

At the Horizon League Championship in late February, he anchored the league-record-setting 800- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams and won the 500 freestyle. He swam second leg on the league-record-setting 400-yard medley relay team.

He set the pool and league record in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. With those times, he qualified for the NCAA championship. But 52.48, his 100 time, is just one story. The other is a number 2.8 seconds smaller.


The United States short-course 100-yard breaststroke record stands at 50.04, set on March 28, 2014, by Kevin Cordes. He clinched that swimming for the University of Arizona, a school which would later communicate with Nowicki.

50.04. Four hundredths off.

“I thought it would just be really cool to be the first American under 50-point in the 100 yard breaststroke,” Nowicki said.

But to do that, he’d only need to shave 4 percent of a second off the record, not 36 percent. Why choose 49.68?

“Just [to] be specific,” Nowicki said. “S.M.A.R.T. goal, you know.”

His commitment to swimming began a couple of years ago when two coaches blew into his career — Chris Sullivan, the former Oakland swimmer who still holds the 50 and 100 free and 100 butterfly school records, and Pat Dodge, a former Lake Orion swimmer who came back to coach.

“That’s when I learned there is more I needed to learn about swimming to get faster,” he said. “That was my junior year of high school, and then through the summer I really pushed myself.”

He hadn’t always done that.

“Through my early years of swimming I kind of relied more on talent than hard work,” Nowicki said. “After my freshman year, I took a lot of time off and came back to swimming expecting to win everything like I usually did, and it just didn’t pan out that well.”

He switched his priorities, started making his own success. And has mostly kept it up.

“Trying to,” Nowicki said.

He’s lost his grip before.

“I did earlier this first semester,” he said, “but I got it back in time.”

The Horizon League Championship results sheet corroborates this.

“He’s a go-to guy,” Hovland said. “That’s kind of uncanny. He’s a lot more mature of a swimmer than his age would indicate. He acts like a senior. Somebody that’s been there, done it a zillion times. That’s pretty uncommon for somebody so young. That’s a trait I think he has that helps make him a cut above the rest.”