Former Mills star Zalewski key member of UConn swim team..Story by John Torsiello.
Former Lewis Mills swimming star Luke Zalewski is now a key member of the UConn Huskies swim team. Feature by John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
For some top notch high school athletes, making the jump to Division I college sports is a bit of a culture shock.
Thus it was for former Lewis Mills standout swimmer Luke Zalewski, who tore through the Berkshire League pools and earned a berth with the University of Connecticut men’s swimming and diving team. You might think a young man who was one of the better freestylers to ever come through the BL to find immediate success in college. But, as Zalewski discovered, there’s a period of intense adjustment when moving up to compete at the next level.
“There is a very big difference between college and high school swimming,” said Zalewski, now a junior with the Huskies. “When I participated in high school swimming the training was a lot easier and the yardage wasn’t even comparable to the amount we do here at UConn. At UConn, we practice six days a week, doubles on four of those days. At dual meets the competition is a lot more intense and the teams are much more competitive.”
He said the first month of college was difficult. Being away from home all the time, the intense training, and the importance of academics were not what he was used to. But after a while, he “buckled down.”
“In college swimming you have your ups and downs. The training is very hard and strenuous at times, but in the end when you drop time at your conference meet all the training and hard work seems to be worth it.”
During his freshman year, Zalewski, the son of Walter and Krystyna Zalewski, scored in only one event (the 1,650-meters, or mile) at the Big East Conference meet. But the following year he scored in two events for the Huskies--the 500-meter freestyle (12th place) and the mile (14th). The American Athletic Conference meet is only a few weeks away and Zalewski said he feels prepared and ready to improve his times once again.
“I would like to break the top 10 in the AAC meet in the 500-freestyle, to score in all three of my events, break 4:30 in the 500, and break 1:40 in the 200-freestyle.”
Zalewski was a bright star in high school. As a senior, he left a mark on the BL record books with his outstanding performances in the 200-free and butterfly. He set new championship meet marks in both, following up a stellar showing as a junior when he set records in winning the 100-free and IM at the BL meet, claiming four meet records in his last two years of high school swimming. He also earned All-State honors and was a national YMCA swim champion.
His college career has been hampered by injuries. He tore an ACL the fall semester of his sophomore year, but decided to swim through it so he could compete and train throughout the season. “Despite the injury, I still swam well at the Conference meet. After the season was over I went through with the ACL reconstruction surgery.”
He trains about 20 hours a week in-season and during the off-season works on staying in shape and swims with his club team, the Cheshire Sea Dogs. Zalewski began swimming at the age of six but it took him a few years to get into the sport and become competitive at it.
He says the friends he has met along the way and the experiences he has had with them have been his most memorable moments thus far at UConn.
“For example, UConn participates in `Swim Across America’ every year in Rhode Island. This event allowed the team to get very close and support a great cause in cancer research at the same time.”
He gets home for the major school breaks and manages to keep in touch with his closest former Mills teammates. When he isn’t training, competing or hitting the books, Zalewski simply likes to rest, play video games, dabble at other sports besides swimming, and hang out with his friends.
He chose to attend UConn “because was close to home, had great academics, and I always wanted to support my state. It seemed like the next place to go after high school. I’ve always been a huge Husky fan.”
His major is Allied Health and he says classes are getting harder as he continues his educational climb.
“But I'm still very interested in the medical field, which makes it easier to stay focused on my studies. I plan to spend two years in graduate school and eventually work as a physician’s assistant.”
It’s a heavy work load with challenging classes. And putting in long hours in the pool doesn’t make the task any easier. But Luke Zalewski has found the right balance in his life and he’s excelling as a Division I scholar-athlete.