When Olivia Czelusniak was beginning her swimming career 10 years ago at the Ravine Swim Club in Ewing, Erin Devlin was just getting started there as coach.
Fast forward to today, and Czelusniak is a top-end club swimmer and senior at Ewing High School, who this year has been reunited with Devlin, the new head coach of the Blue Devils boys’ and girls’ swim teams.
“She was my first coach really ever,” Czelusniak said. “I think I was 8 and she was the head coach at Ravine at the time. I think it’s really cool that she’s come back, and now I have her as my coach for my senior season.”
Devlin is a 2004 graduate of Ewing, and still holds some school records—the ones that Czelusniak doesn’t now own.
Devlin coached Robbinsville-Allentown for the last two years, but jumped at the chance to coach at Ewing when former coach Stefanie Harrison stepped down. Devlin is in her sixth year teaching first grade at Antheil Elementary School and now can coach in the school district in which she teaches. It hasn’t been long enough for her to coach any former students, but her Ravine coaching days give her a connection to some on this year’s Ewing team.
“I know a few of the swimmers from back when I coached then,” Devlin said. “They were about 7 or 8 back then. It’s fun to see them grow and continuing swimming.”
Czelusniak leads a girls’ team that suffered significant graduation losses. She is the only club team swimmer for Ewing. Czelusniak has been swimming for Eastern Express since sixth grade, and she has more speed and versatility than anyone on the Blue Devils team.
“Last year, Olivia placed fourth in the 100 free at (Mercer County Championships) and seventh in the 50 free at counties,” Devlin said. “We’re looking forward to another strong year from her. She’ll definitely be a leader this year in and out of the pool.”
Devlin has seen her leadership early in the preseason. Even when she’s not in the water for Ewing, she is on the pool deck helping less experienced swimmers in practice.
“Typically I swim at my club practices and then I help coach in the morning with technique advice,” Czelusniak said. “I just help out in sharing my experience with some of the newer swimmers on the team.
“High school swimming, it’s almost like the way I was when I was a younger club swimmer,” she added. “They come in and if they don’t have a lot of experience, they can work on their technique a lot through the season and drop crazy amounts of time. It’s encouraging to them and then they want to work harder, which I think it awesome.”
Ewing practices at 5:30 a.m. each morning at The College of New Jersey. This year’s team won’t be big, but they figure to improve significantly throughout the season as their swimmers get into better condition and polish their technique.
“We have a lot smaller of a team this year because we graduated 12 seniors,” Czelusniak said. “That’s a big hit for our team. The girls we have all look really good in the water now even though we’ve only had a couple practices. I think they’re all going to do really well. In some ways, a small team is nice because then everyone can get the technique work they need. Coach Devlin has been great with that at the beginning of the year. I think that’s exciting for the future.”
With such a small team, measuring Ewing’s success won’t just be a matter of wins and losses. The Blue Devils won one meet last year, but showed steady improvement across the board from start to finish with most swimmers reaching new personal records. Ewing has always had a smaller team than many opponents, but that’s never tempered the team’s enthusiasm.
“Ewing has historically been known for their great sportsmanship,” Devlin said. “Cheering on the pool deck for all the races, for all teams. Swimming their races and having a great time doing it, just making it a positive experience. Working hard but having fun at the same time.”
Czelusniak has been looking forward to her final season with Ewing. She has been swimming on the high school team since she was a freshman.
“It’s a lot less pressure and at times more fun than club swimming,” she said. “Club swimming can get a little serious at times and it’s more of focus on you as an individual swimmer. Especially with Ewing, I’m able to have a better time with my teammates and we’re to focus on personal growth and improvement. I think it takes pressure off me and allows me to get back to swimming just for swimming’s sake.
“I don’t remember much from freshman and sophomore years. It know it was a lot of fun, especially when we had some upperclassmen that welcomed me onto the team. I remember sophomore year, I swam with Rebecca Coulton, Kate McCord and Beth Cunniss, and that was the year we broke two school records in the 200 free and 400 free relay.”
Individually, Czelusniak already owns the school records in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle races as well as the 100 backstroke. The other three individual records will be tough to beat.
“The one I’m probably closest to is the 100 fly,” Czelusniak said. “I think two of the other records are Erin’s. Particularly for breaststroke, she set it kind of high.”
Records aren’t her main target in her last year. She wants to help lead the younger swimmers along, and she is looking to close her career with a fun season.
“I think I just want to enjoy it and I want to make sure we have a welcoming atmosphere,” Czelusniak said. “I want to make sure all the new swimmers feel like they have a place on the team. And I’ll try for personal improvement throughout this season.”
Czelusniak has the versatility to help Ewing in any event, but her favorite events and the ones that she is best at are the sprint freestyle races. That makes her a valuable member of any Blue Devils relay. Relays remain some of the most exciting races at a meet, and Ewing hopes it can put together some foursomes to compete well.
“It might be a little tough this year, but I know that I have two of my fellow seniors, Rebecca Coulton as well as Cailey Green,” Czelusniak said. “Becky has been on my relay essentially since freshman or sophomore year. We always have fun together. Cailey is also a very good swimmer. Having the three of us, especially experienced in meets these four years, I think that’ll be a big help.”
Czelusniak is also off to an encouraging start. Swimming year-round for Eastern Express has helped her improve each season and put her in position to medal at this year’s county meet.
“I have to attribute that first to my parents for getting on me for sleeping and eating healthy and also to my coach for keeping me fit in the pool,” Czelusniak said. “It also just comes as you get older, you relax about things. I’m trying not to be too stressed about times. It’s early in the season so I haven’t been doing best times yet. We’ve only had one real meet (for Eastern Express) so far.”
Devlin is grateful to have a strong swimmer like Czelusniak for her first season coaching at Ewing. Czelusniak will provide strong swims each meet, and she is embracing her leadership role. She is proud to represent the team well in her final season with the Blue Devils.
“I just try my best coming from Ewing,” Czelusniak said. “It’s always an honor to race for Ewing especially with all the kids I race with. I really admire them and always have a lot of fun with them.”