Mike Wojtenko was a perfect example of the talent and depth that it took the High School North boys’ swimming team to earn its first sectional championship.
The sophomore started his day with a second-place finish behind teammate Jimmy Zhen in the 200 freestyle for big points for the Knights, and held off Princeton High’s most accomplished swimmer to win the 500 free and help top-seeded North win, 100-70, over third-seeded Princeton in the Central Jersey Group B public final on Feb. 14.
“I knew we had a special team,” Wojtenko said. “I knew it’d be tough to beat some of the other teams in the section.”
Ethan Yuen won the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke, Zhen captured the 100 free and 200 free, and Steve Kim took the 100 butterfly. Crosby Davidson and Alex Ho were key contributors as the points built up. Wojtenko was also a part of the winning 200 and 400 free relays.
“I think it’s cool that I’m able to contribute to the team for our first sectional tournament,” Wojtenko said. “There are a lot of other kids too. I know it’s not all me. I’m just trying to help the cause and do whatever it takes to win.”
The Knights used strong swims across the board to remain unbeaten on the season heading into the Public B semifinals against Mainland. Wojtenko’s 500 win may have been the least certain of the victories. He went up against Princeton’s most versatile swimmer and delivered a win after falling to him earlier in the year.
“I did the same thing that I did before,” Wojtenko said. “I stuck to what I trained for. I didn’t do anything different, but I got a confidence boost from sticking close to him and getting a couple best times. I knew I could improve in certain areas and I knew I could catch up and get him this time.”
WW-P North’s power and depth have helped it foster its best season in history. The Knights were 12-0 in the regular season, placed second for their highest ever Mercer County Championship finish, and capped it with their first sectional crown.
“I’m happy for our boys,” said North coach Todd Robinson, whose girls team also went unbeaten in the regular season plus won their second county meet in three years. “It’s been 20 years since North was established. We had a good group of guys. Sometimes records can be a little bit misleading. Even though our boys were undefeated, they did face some adversity that’s not evident when you glance at that record. This really proved to be a resilient group. As a coaching staff, we were certainly proud of them.”
Wojtenko is in his second year on the team. The Knights were also good a year ago, but didn’t come out with the same results.
“I think we felt better this year,” Wojtenko said. “We added a lot of new pieces and we really had our confidence up. Because of the incoming freshmen and the returning swimmers that grew and developed, we knew we had a special team.”
Wojtenko and the Knights are bigger and stronger this year. He has continued to develop into a reliable distance swimmer, as well as a contributor in the relays and is one of the important cogs in the team’s success.
Wojtenko benefitted from having a year of experience. He was there last year when the Knights were knocked out before the sectional finals, and the different format was something he knew how to handle.
“I have more experience not getting as much rest in meets as I’m accustomed to,” Wojtenko said. “I can get back up on the blocks after a rough swim and put that behind me and still be able to swim fast.”
WW-P North had each other for motivation. They pushed each other to top swims and the crown.
“We didn’t necessarily run a lineup that was all that different from what we would normally swim against a tough opponent,” Robinson said. “We did shift a couple guys around based on what we knew they had. We took a look at the county championship results and you never know where a coach will place their top swimmers, especially when you have some versatile kids and both teams do. Overall, it was probably our depth that helped. We did win eight events overall so we had our middle lane swimmers do a fantastic job for us.”
The sectionals came after the Knights narrowly lost at the county meet. The team was neck and neck with Pennington, which edged the Knights by three points for the team title.
“We were all disappointed, but I think it helped our confidence,” Wojtenko said. “We knew that Pennington was a really tough team and we knew that they had really special swimmers.”
Wojtenko had that same confidence in himself. He has been lowering his times, and felt good about his chances to score winning points for the team in the 500 free as well as the 200 free.
“Even at counties, I had a personal best, and I knew I could still improve on that swim,” said Wojtenko of the 500. “I was optimistic in my chances.”
Outside of swimming Wojtenko enjoys spending time with his dog and he plays the double bass for the school orchestra. His swimming talents have been focusing on the distance events since he started to swim competitively. He competes now outside of school for Hamilton Aquatics Club, and concentrates on distance for club as well.
From an early age I was able to pace myself better and focus on my race and hold a pace for a longer time,” Wojtenko said. “I guess it’s a natural talent. Sometimes it can be challenging to get up there and realize you have to swim full speed for five minutes. Usually I’m able to clear that out and swim my fastest.”
Wojtenko has been looking forward to representing the school on the swim team. His older sisters both swam for North, and while he went to some of their meets to cheer for them, he was excited to get his chance.
“I really like the team aspect to high school swimming,” Wojtenko said. “We’re all really supporting each other and cheering for each other every time. In club swimming, it’s more of an individual kind of thing. You still have the team, but it’s a different animal. In high school, everyone is there to support each other. That’s a cooler aspect to it.”