The High School North junior laughs at his forays into baseball and soccer almost a decade ago. “I wasn’t very good at baseball,” Yuen said. And soccer? “I was afraid of the ball.”
Swimming, however, was something he enjoyed, but wasn’t one of the fastest swimmers when he began competing for Peddie Aquatics club team 10 years ago.
“I think I was pretty average amongst my teammates,” Yuen said. “I was often in one of the slower lanes.”
Yuen started to speed up in his middle school years. He was getting more serious about swimming, and seeing the results paying off. No longer was a slower swimmer in the outside lanes.
“That started to change around 11 or 12 years old, when I almost made the Junior Olympics for club swimming,” Yuen said. “I looked up to a lot of the older swimmers on the club team. Then I tried to copy or emulate what they did.”
Yuen still trains with his club team, but has also been a major points scorer for the North boys’ team. He is in his third season with the Knights.
Yuen has emerged as a team leader who is trying to cultivate the team’s depth. He’s been that way since his first year, and has continued to lower time and improve his placing each season.
He placed second in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 100 butterfly at last year’s Mercer County Championships.
“Regardless of what Ethan swims, we’re confident he’s going to give his best effort and do well,” said Knights head coach Todd Robinson. “For the most part, he swims IM and fly for us. A couple meets, we’ve been able to do some different things with the lineup and he’s been able to swim different events here and there.”
He adds that Yuen has become a consistent swimmer for the Knights us over the last two and a half years. “It’ll be exciting to see how he does this year at the championship meet and next year in his senior season.”
Yuen’s swimming has evolved over his career. He focuses on the fly and IM for club as well. To do IM, he has to be a well-rounded swimmer.
“I think the weak point is backstroke for me,” Yuen said. “When I was younger, my best stroke was breaststroke. Now I’m getting better at distance freestyle and butterfly.”
Yuen can score in anything he’s swimming. His contributions helped the Knights to one of their best seasons in program history a year ago when they went 11-1 in the regular season and reached the sectional final. They also placed third in the county meet, equaling their best finish in program history.
“Everyone looked at this season as an opportunity to build on what we did last year in different ways,” Robinson said. “You don’t know how other teams are going to be, you never know, but we have a talented team so I’m not going to say we’ve been surprised. We have some really talented boys on our team.”
Robinson sees the Knights having similar potential this season thanks to the way they’ve been developing through the regular season.
“I think this year on the boys side, Notre Dame is certainly at or near the top in our conference,” Robinson said. “Overall, I’d look for us to be top three in terms of where we’re at in our dual meets.”
With two meets to go in the regular season Colonial Valley Conference schedule, Notre Dame was the only team to have beaten WW-P North. The 7-1 Knights edged both Lawrence and rival WW-P South in meets that came down to the final relay.
“This year, we set the bar pretty high,” Yuen said. “And I think most of the freshmen that are new to high school swimming are improving very well and scoring lots of points for our team.”
An influx of strong freshmen have helped to make up for graduation losses and those that elected not to return to the high school team. The Knights have been getting good swims from
“Michael Wojtenko has been fantastic for us in the distance and mid-distance freestyle,” Robinson said. “Steven Kim is a pretty versatile swimmer for us. He’s done some sprint free for us, some distance and mid-distance, and he can swim fly. Jonathan Hu is talented as well. He’s picked us up in the sprint freestyle that is where we lost some to graduation from last year. And he can also swim backstroke as well.”
Yuen combines with them for the relays. He will do the fly leg of the medley relay, and he usually finishes meets by anchoring the 400 free relay, a new role after swimming the first or second leg of it as a younger swimmer that could come with more pressure.
“I don’t think it ever came to me deciding if we won or not,” Yuen said., adding that he will be ready if a race does come down to him. It’s part of being an older member of the team with higher expectations.
“I think my motivation is my team because when you score a lot of points, your team looks up to you,” Yuen said. “It’s kind of a role model. If you do something, everyone else will follow. Not like speed, but work ethic in general.”
Yuen has been one of the leaders to show the way, and North’s newer contributors have profited from seeing how their swims have paid off in tight meets. Winning two meets that came down to the final relay could pay off if North ends up facing that situation again.
“You’re not going to win too often with one or two superstars,” Robinson said. “The teams with the depth are going to win. This year we are one of the deeper teams in our conference, we’ll see how they plays out later on if we make the state tournament. I’m pleased with the boys so far.”