Boys State Swimming Prelims, 2/24/17

Grand Island's Matthew Novinski reacts to breaking a state record with a time of 48.89 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke during the boys state swimming meet Friday at the Devaney Sports Center.

MATT RYERSON, Journal Star

Matthew Novinski can now jump on the next train.

The Grand Island senior has long had the goal of one day swimming the 100-yard backstroke in less than 49 seconds at the high school level.

History indicated that the Islander standout could pull it off Friday during the boys state swimming preliminaries at the Devaney Sports Center.

When Novinski touched the wall during his heat, he popped his head out of the water and looked at scoreboard. There it was — a state-record time of :48.89.

He then turned the other way to lock eyes with his parents, former Husker swimmers Carole and Dan Novinski, who were sitting in the crowd.

There was happiness, then relief.

"I was just happy that I kind of got off the bad juju train of 49s in high school," the Wisconsin recruit said.

Now Novinski is looking to join some elusive company. If he wins the 100 backstroke final Saturday, he'll become just the third Nebraska high school swimmer to win four titles in one event.

Fremont's Jeff Evans won the 200 freestyle from 1970-73, and Norfolk's Kyle Wemhoff won the 500 freestyle from 2005-08.

Known for his lofty goals, Novinski said he's not finished.

"Now he wants to go faster," Grand Island coach Brian Jensen said.

The swimmer said there are some areas that he can clean up Saturday.

"My turns, they were pretty close to the wall on every turn, so definitely got to work on that," Novinski said. "Those might just be tenths of a second, but they definitely add up."

Novinski has reset the state-meet backstroke record at each of the past three state meets. He went :49.15 as a sophomore and :49.09 as a junior. Each of those times occurred during prelims.

Why is Novinski so clutch at the Devaney Center pool?

"It's adrenaline," Jensen said. "This is the event he focused on all year. You got a big crowd watching you. Everybody's swimming fast. Everybody's going all-in.

"You either go two ways at this meet. Usually you get excited and pumped up and you put everything into your race and have a good race. Or you freeze up."

Novinski, who attends school at Grand Island Central Catholic, also has the top qualifying mark (a season-best 1:40.24) for Saturday's 200 freestyle final.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsCG.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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