New Trier’s Jae Park primed for encore performance

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No one was surprised when New Trier swimming star Reed Malone won both of his individual events at last season’s state meet.

But when teammate Jae Park won both of his, everyone was shocked.

In capturing the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Park became just the sixth Trevian ever to win two individual state titles in the same year.

Park also helped New Trier win the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, thereby joining Oak Park’s Tim Barry (1998), Lake Forest’s Matt Grevers (2003) and New Trier’s Max Grodecki (2011) as the only swimmers in state history to win four events in the same year. Swimmers have been allowed to compete in a maximum of four events since 1991.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Park said. “My goal was to score some points for the team because the year before I wasn’t able to do anything. I was trying to maximize the points and I ended up doing it.”

Park’s efforts helped the Trevians beat Hinsdale Central by a whopping 73 points for their third state team championship in a row. The win was anticipated but Park’s performance was a revelation.

“Bottom line is I didn’t see him winning two events,” New Trier coach Mark Onstott said. “I saw him doing great in two events, but I wouldn’t have predicted that.

“I just knew he was going to swim fast and the result depends on what everybody else does, but the work he put in was going to get him some great results, and winning the events was a little icing on the cake for us.”

Now Park’s contributions will be seen as the main course, not mere dessert, because if New Trier is to win another state title, it will need the senior to lead the way. The Trevians return just two other swimmers with state meet experience and will face stiff competition from Libertyville, Normal U-High and Hinsdale Central.

“It’s a whole different role for me this year,” Park said. “I wasn’t really a leader on this team before. My goal this year is not only to swim fast but to make these guys have a great year, have fun. I know I’m not a captain, but I’m still a senior and in the pool and outside of the pool [I] should be leading the other guys.”

Park is no stranger to hard work. He has trained seriously since he began swimming at age 7 in his native Korea.

Park’s parents moved to the United States when he was 11, spending a year in Texas. Park didn’t swim there but resumed when the family moved to Wilmette and enrolled him in the Northwestern Aquatic Club.

The move to the U.S. changed Park’s life because he could pursue both swimming and academics at the same time.

“It’s a lot different [in Korea],” Park said. “Over there, if I was there I would just focus on swimming and go to a sports school. I think it’s a lot better to balance academics and swimming because you don’t know how far you’re going to get with swimming later in life.”

Park has a bright future in both. He has taken official visits to Yale, Duke, Northwestern and Columbia and is considering majoring in engineering.

Onstott, who is retiring after this season, says Park is the linchpin in New Trier’s effort to engineer another championship.

“He is a leader and sets the tone in practice,” Onstott said. “He works very hard but he’s also, I don’t know what the current terminology is, but he’s a bit of a cut-up, a jokester.

“But it’s kind of like an on-off switch. When he’s switched on there’s nobody working close to him. The great thing is that most of the time, that’s what he’s doing.”

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