After winning six gold medals at the A-10 Championship last year and helping the men’s swimming and diving team to their fourth A-10 title in five years, sophomore Karol Mlynarczyk is setting his sights even higher this season.
Mlynarczyk said he intends to win a fifth A-10 crown and to qualify for the medley relay at the NCAA tournament and individually in the 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle. He said he is hoping to qualify for the Polish national team at the biennial World University Games after they were postponed last year due to COVID-19.
Born and raised in Poland, Mlynarczyk said he started swimming when he was about seven years old. His school offered him a scholarship for swimming and by age 14, Mlynarczyk began competing in tournaments.
He quickly moved up the ranks in Poland, joining the Polish National Team in 2015 and earning a bronze medal in the 200m back at the 2018 Polish Winter National Championships. He also broke the Polish junior national records in both the 200m free and 400m free.
Mlynarczyk joined the Colonials in 2020, but said he started his recruitment process in 2018. Though he said he was entertaining big name schools like Florida State, Pittsburgh and Alabama at the time, he eventually settled on GW because of his “special relationship” with head coach Brian Thomas.
“No other coach from other universities had this strong bond with me,” Mlynarczyk said. “We used to talk like every two weeks. He was asking me, what was my performance, how I improved, how I’m feeling, how is my school going on so far and all this stuff.”
Thomas said at first he suspected Mlynarczyk thought of GW as a backup school, but when Mlynarczyk came for an official campus visit in 2019, Thomas could tell he was going to be “unique.”
“I vividly remember him coming through at BWI through customs,” Thomas said. “Right away, it felt like ‘You know what? This kind of feels like the right fit.’ As we got to know each other and even just that ride down to campus, it made a lot of sense and then following the trip and talking to some of our kids at the time, it was very clear that we thought it would be a good connection and a good fit.”
Since joining GW last year, Mlynarczyk has earned six gold medals at the A-10 Championship, helping him become an A-10 Most Outstanding Performer and A-10 Most Outstanding Rookie Performer honoree. He even posted a time in the 100 back as part of the 400 medley relay that would’ve been fast enough to qualify for the NCAA Championship if he had swam the event individually.
Mlynarczyk said he used to spend a lot of time with his psychologist learning how to focus exclusively on himself during the meets so he could maintain a high level of performance.
“Even if you have other people swimming next to you, and you race them, you cannot focus on them because you don’t have any input on how they can swim,” Mlynarcyzk said. “You can only focus on how you swim, so you shouldn’t think about your time, neither their time nor how they swim, you can only have control over your stroke, how fast you can start, how fast you can turn.”
Thomas said Mlynarczyk has great attention to detail and is “super communicative,” which he said is an important trait given the 50 plus swimmers and divers between the men’s and women’s squads Thomas has to juggle on a daily basis.
“He’s a very efficient swimmer, he’s always thoughtful about what he’s doing,” Thomas said. “He wants to know everything that we’re doing, the purpose behind it, and the plan moving forward and I love that.”
Now that Mlynarczyk is a sophomore, Thomas said he is looking for him to continue growing as a leader. He said he has “learned to embrace the team aspect”, which is something Mlynarczyk did not experience as a swimmer in Europe.
“You cannot think about it like you’re alone, and you cannot be selfish because there are other people who look at you and they want you to lead them,” Mlynarczyk said. “So I think that was the biggest lesson, that even if you spend all these hours in water and you cannot talk to anyone, you still have other people who look at you.”
With the graduation of three time A-10 All-Conference First Team member and four time A-10 Championship winner Emils Pone, Mlynarczyk said he is also looking to fill in the void left by Pone.
“I wanted to be like him because at every practice he was giving 100 percent from himself,” Mlynarczyk said. “He was stretching before and after practice, he was all the time at the pool, and I remember what Brian told me, we only see the tip of the iceberg with what Emils does because we see him on the pool deck, but we don’t see him what he does in his room outside of the room.”
Thomas said this year’s team has the best culture he’s experienced in 17 years of coaching. Thomas used Mlynarczyk’s performance at the 400 medley relay last season as an example for what the team aspect of swimming could help players achieve
After coming away with a win on the road against Old Dominion Oct. 9, he said the team has remained focus on staying consistent with their training to hopefully obtain their ultimate goal of winning the A-10 Championship again and increasing exposure at the national level.
“With swimming, it’s just like anything else, it’s constant work to get better once you reach a certain benchmark of success,” Thomas said. “It’s about what’s next and if you lose sight of that, then you take steps sideways.”
The Colonials will prepare for the next meet on the road against Pittsburgh Nov. 6 at 1 p.m.