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Loyola Academy's Andrew Jovanovic won the 100-Yard Butterfly during Saturday's State Championship held at Evanston High School. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Loyola senior Andrew Jovanovic is one of the most talented and articulate swimmers in the state.
The Northwestern recruit is as well-known for his gift of gab as he is for his swimming ability and his penchant for engaging in conversations with people of all ages makes him one of his sport’s most popular athletes.
Loyola coach Mike Hengelmann, a history teacher who has known Jovanovic for many years, can attest to that.
“We have a good rapport,” Hengelmann said. “One time when he was a freshman we were driving to a meet and I tried to get him to discuss swimming and all he wanted to do was talk about ancient Rome. We bust his chops a lot, but personality-wise he’s obviously great to have around.”
Jovanovic counts many adults, including former coaches, among his friends and often meets them at Starbucks for marathon conversations over coffee. He is as comfortable discussing history or the worldwide debt crisis as he is swimming.
“Ever since I was young people always said I talked too much,” Jovanovic said. “At least I hope I come across heartfelt. I want to try to articulate what I as an athlete, as a person, at least can try to get across.”
Jovanovic is unfailingly polite to people, be they swimming officials, coaches or his competitors.
“Whatever I was when I was nothing and the people who were nice to me, I make it my business to go out and see those people and say, ‘you know, you were there for me,’” Jovanovic said. “That’s how I develop most of my friendships. I remember once some girl commented, ‘How do you know everybody?’ I’m like, ‘I just go up and talk to them.’”
Jovanovic’s demeanor makes for a jovial atmosphere at practices, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t serious about his swimming. Jovanovic has 11 state medals, including three championships, and needs just two more to become the most decorated male swimmer in school history, but his work ethic is such that Hengelmann sometimes has to rein him in.
“When I get in that pool and my head goes under the water, it doesn’t matter if I’m sick, it doesn’t if I have a broken leg, for some reason I just have that fight mentality,” Jovanovic said. “I just feel like I have to go 100 percent. I cannot tell you why. You have to prepare for everything and I never do anything less than 100 percent.”
“He’s very cerebral about his swimming, so from a coaching standpoint, he’s a very coachable guy because he really thinks through all of his swims and he analyzes his races better than anyone I’ve ever coached,” Hengelmann said. “He’s always thinking about the team. He’s obviously accomplished a lot individually but he’s always looking out for what he can do to better the team in every aspect.”
That was never more apparent than last year. Jovanovic had won state titles in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly as a sophomore, but he passed up the chance to defend his 50 crown, instead swimming all three relays in an attempt to maximize Loyola’s team points. That strategy backfired when the Ramblers’ 200 free relay failed to qualify for state, and Jovanovic endured more hardship when he fell ill three days before the meet.
Despite that, Jovanovic won the butterfly again and helped Loyola’s two other relays place in the top 6.
“I was real proud of him,” Hengelmann said. “A lot of people don’t know how sick he was at the state meet. I drove with him to the state meet and he coughed for about a half-hour straight in my car and I was like, ‘Oh, boy, this could be a long weekend.’ But he stepped up and persevered and was still able to win a state title and have really good relays. He led off our medley relay with a 22.7 backstroke split, which is the fastest split I’ve ever seen in the state of Illinois.”
Jovanovic aspires to be either a doctor like his father, who emigrated from Serbia, or a lawyer like his mother. But this winter he is focused more than ever on making sure the Ramblers have their best season possible.
“Every single year we’ve gotten better,” Jovanovic said. “Every year there has been a drive to do more in practice, to do more in meets, to be more classier men and to really grow. That’s where my goals come from.”
One of those goals is to win two more individual state titles, but he knows it will not be easy.
“I never think that I’m going to win,” Jovanovic said. “The guy swimming next to you is training just as hard as you, if not harder, and you need to prepare for that. So I want to try to be the best leader I that can so I can set a precedent where guys say this guy works hard in practice, this guy throws it down in meets, this is who we should try to be like.”
Top 5 Boys Swimming Teams
1. New Trier — The path to third straight state title and seventh in 10 years should be a cake walk.
2. Lake Forest — Scouts are excited about having their best team in a decade
3. Hinsdale Central — Danny Thomson graduated but Red Devils could be even better this winter.
4. Loyola — Andrew Jovanovic hoping to lead Ramblers to their first trophy since 1996.
5. Mundelein — Stanford recruit Connor Black is a force to be reckoned with.
Top 15 boys swimmers (in alphabetical order)
Connor Black, Sr., Mundelein; Kyle Gannon, Sr., St. Charles North; Peter Grumhaus, Sr., Lake Forest; Michael Hamann, Sr., Cary-Grove; Nick Hasemann, Sr., South Elgin; Sam Hiller, Sr., Naperville North; Andrew Jovanovic, Sr., Loyola; Reed Malone, Sr., New Trier; Jack Mangan, Sr., New Trier; Eddie Mapel, Sr., Hinsdale Central; Karol Mlynarski, Sr., Niles North; Kyle Patnode, Sr., Oak Park; Alex Snarski, Jr., Libertyville; Steven Tan, Jr., IMSA; Brian Walsh, Sr., New Trier.