Marek Malopolski and Bartosz Ostrowski exploded onto the IUP swimming scene like Fourth of July fireworks, with flashes of brilliance that left spectators—and even their coach—agape in wonder.
Dave Caldwell figured the freshmen from Poland would shatter school records in their first season. But in their first meet? Not even Nostradamus could’ve seen that one coming.
Bartosz Ostrowski, left, and Marek Malopolski
The men with the long names made short work of the opposition at the season-opening PSAC Fall Sprint Meet in West Chester. Malopolski won three individual events, set a school record of 58.81 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke, swam legs on two victorious relay teams, and was named the NCAA Division II national Swimmer of the Week by CollegeSwimming.com for his efforts. Ostrowski touched the wall first in two individual events, set an IUP record of 46.39 in the 100 freestyle, and swam on two winning relay teams.
As first impressions go, theirs was second to none.
“I think we did a good job,” said Ostrowski, who resides in Swidnik, near Poland’s southeastern border with Ukraine. “It was very easy for us actually.”
Malopolski and Ostrowski have continued their all-out assault on the IUP record book since that smashing debut. Malopolski held three school standards at press time, with the conference and national meets still to come: the 200 individual medley (1:53.70); the 100 breaststroke (57.79); and the 200 breaststroke, in which his time (2:05.24) ranked fourth nationally. Ostrowski owned the 50 freestyle (21.02) and 100 free records, his time in the latter (45.40) good for second-best nationally. Between them, Malopolski and Ostrowski have lowered school standards on seventeen occasions this season.
None of their success surprises Caldwell, whose previous experience with Poles colored his optimism.
“I was lucky enough to coach with the 1992 Polish Olympic coach when I was at Clemson years ago, and one of my good friends who I coached with in Arizona was an Olympian on the ’92 Polish women’s team,” he said. “So I knew a lot about the type of athletes Marek and Bart were. I had high expectations for the simple fact that I knew they would fit well in our program. I knew if they were given the opportunity, they were going to excel.”
Their promise in swimming was recognized at an early age, which led Malopolski and Ostrowski to Roselle Catholic School of Sports Champions in Kraków. They became fast friends there, all the while refining their skills in the pool.
“What you find mainly in the old Eastern Bloc countries is that kids were identified at young ages by their athletic abilities and funneled into different areas,” Caldwell said. “In Europe, you’ll find that a lot of the kids grew up together, doing everything together. There’s still a lot of those state-run programs around.”
With their graduation from Roselle Catholic approaching, Malopolski and Ostrowski resolved to continue their schoolwork and their pool work in the United States. They fixed their sights on IUP.
“A friend from Poland used to study in New Jersey,” said Malopolski, who lives in Kędzierzyn-Koźle, near Poland’s southern border with the Czech Republic. “He really wanted to come here, but they didn’t have his major. He told me that if I’m looking for a good school, I should check this one. So I e-mailed the coach, and he answered positively.”
This was a package deal Caldwell couldn’t resist. And Malopolski and Ostrowski discovered that coming to IUP in tandem provided an added benefit: Having another Pole on the team diminished the chance of feeling alienated in a strange land, far from home.
“It’s very helpful,” said Malopolski. “Sometimes when you’re under pressure or something, it’s really nice to have someone to talk to—in your own language.”
“Yes, we can support each other,” Ostrowski said.
That built-in support system has enabled them to seamlessly adjust to a new country.
“Either one coming here on their own would have ultimate issues trying to assimilate,” Caldwell said. “But having one another, they help each other out.”
They’ve helped his program, too. Malopolski and Ostrowski led the men to a 9-1 dual meet record, the best in years. They’ve also raised hopes that IUP can produce its first national champion since 1979. The NCAA Division II meet was to take place March 9-12 in Orlando, Fla.
“I see Bart placing somewhere in the top five in the 200 free, probably going somewhere around a 1:39,” Caldwell said. “In the 100, realistically he’s gonna go 44 low, 43 high. Marek, his 100 breaststroke, he’s got enough speed to go 56 low, which is gonna put him in the top five. The 200 breaststroke, he’s got a shot to win that, he really does. And Bart’s got a shot to win that 100 free. The 200 IM, there’s no way Marek’s gonna win that—the guy that’s first is way out there. But I definitely know he can drop down close to 1:50, and that’ll put him in the top four. So they’ve got a great shot at running the table and being in the top five in every one of their events.”
That would cap an extraordinary journey for Marek Malopolski and Bartosz Ostrowski—from Poland to America to All-Americans in the span of a year. And finishing with a bang, like fireworks on the Fourth, only seems fitting.
After all, they launched their IUP careers with an explosive performance.