Justin Sabo has made quite a statement in two years at University of Delaware.
Sabo, a 2018 Westminster High School graduate, was a co-captain for the Blue Hens men’s swimming and diving team as a sophomore this winter. He is this year’s recipient of the True Blue Hen Award, and set a new school record in the 200-meter freestyle as well.
The Blue Hens concluded the regular season Feb. 22 with a fifth-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship at Virginia Tech, where Sabo finished 10th in the 200 free in 1:50.38, good for fourth-best in program history.
He was one of eight athletes to attend the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America National Invitational Championship on March 12-14 at Cleveland State University, but the championship was cancelled after the first day of competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We swam and competed on the first day but there were no spectators in the stands,” Sabo said. “It was really interesting going from swimming in a closed pool natatorium where it’s so loud and it was much different not having that at a national level meet.”
Sabo started swimming at Westminster Riding Club when he was 6 years old and also spent time at the Westminster YMCA. His commitment to the sport increased and his parents registered him for the Eagles Club Swim Team at McDonogh School during his freshman year at Westminster.
He swam for the program’s national training group until his senior year and would wake up at 4 a.m. to attend 5 a.m. practices three days a week. He committed to Delaware that March.
Longtime Blue Hens swimming coach John Hayman stepped down after 29 seasons with the program shortly after Sabo made his commitment. Delaware announced the hiring of Paul Marmolejo, a former UD assistant coach and Big East champion swimmer at West Virginia, two months later.
“I instantly fell in love with the team,” Sabo said. “It was everything I wanted. I saw myself fitting in there and continuing my four years of education and swimming career … Paul and his assistant have redone the entire program and it’s been amazing to be a part of that and see how much has changed there in two years of being on the team.”
Sabo said the True Blue Hen recipient is chosen by the coaches, and Marmolejo described Sabo as an “incredibly respectful, hard worker” upon presenting him with the award. Sabo’s experience as a captain this winter helped him learn how to be a leader as an underclassman because none of his previous swim teams had captains.
He recently found out he was voted as a captain next season as well.
“It was very touching and I had no idea my teammates, who are all my friends, thought of me as a leader,” Sabo said. “It was interesting to learn how to be a captain and I was not expecting them to vote for me again, so finding that out kind of re-centers me and motivates me. I’m excited and can’t wait to get back to school so we can have another incredible year.”
Sabo returned to Westminster Riding Club last summer to coach and said he appreciates the opportunity to give these young swimmers a positive experience, just like he had.
“As a little kid, you idolize your coaches and you think so highly of them, so it’s cool to be on the opposite side of that now,” Sabo said. “It brings back good memories of being however old these kids are and having so much fun with it.
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“I have fun with swimming now but it’s a high-pressure fun, so when you’re a kid, it’s 110 percent for fun.”