Meet the Miners’ freshman swimming phenomenon and Class 4A champion
At the beginning of the swimming season, Park City High School freshman Helena Djunic made the transition from club swimmer to high school swimmer. Usually that’s a tough move to make, said Mike Werner, head coach of the Miners swim team. And a swimmer’s first state championship meet is even more intimidating.
“When you go into it as a freshmen, you’ve been to other meets and stuff, but there’s nothing quite like the high school state meet,” Werner said. “No matter what other preparation I give them.”
But Djunic’s performance at the Class 4A state championship on Feb. 9 and 10 was outstanding. She was part of two winning relay teams and took first in the 100-yard freestyle and 200 freestyle. Djunic’s times gave her enough points to win Swimmer of the Meet.
“I can’t remember the last time you’ve had a freshmen win Swimmer of the Meet,” said Werner, who has worked with the high school team for more than a decade. “So it’s pretty extraordinary to see that accomplishment, to see how fast she went and how mature she was.”
But Werner wasn’t particularly surprised.
Because he also coaches the club team, he has worked with Djunic in the past, and said she had been showing signs of a big performance for a while.
“She’s been swimming with Park City Swimming, the year-round club team, for four or five years now, and has been one of the best swimmers in the state,” Werner said. “Not just in high school, but overall in the state.”
Djunic first started swimming after her brother, Dennis, picked it up. As one of five kids, Djunic said competition and rivalry is a big part of her life.
“It’s fun when we race each other and see if we can beat each other,” Djunic said. “He’ll be like, ‘Let’s go race,’ and we’ll race, but he always beats me.”
Dennis, a senior, took second in the 50 freestyle at the state championship meet and fourth in the 100 freestyle, and helped Park City’s boys relay teams finish in the top five.
Werner said having both on the team has been fun, despite Djunic’s claim that she and her siblings bicker about “literally everything.”
“They have a lot of fun,” Werner said. “They are good kids. They work hard, they like to mess around, they have a fantastic sense of humor. They can dish it out and take it, so it’s a lot of fun to interact with them.”
Djunic started the season by taking first in the 500-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle at the Region 11 Invitational. A few weeks later, she showed her strength again among a different set of teams by taking first in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle at the Park City High School Swimvitational. She also took first in the 100-yard breast stroke and the 100 butterfly during various other meets. In fact, in individual events this season, there were only two races Djunic did not win, and they were both against boys in the PCHS Battle of the Sexes meet.
Unsurprisingly, Djunic said she was prepared for the state championship as the season drew to a close.
“I was a little nervous, but I was more excited,” she said. “I had never been to high school state, so I just wanted to see how it was.”
She said her results were up to her standards.
“I wanted to go fast at state, and I went around the times I wanted to go, so I was happy with it,” Djunic said.
The Swimmer of the Meet award was the exception to her plan.
“That was super cool,” she said. “As a freshmen, I wasn’t expecting it.”
Werner said the championships were a good opportunity for Djunic to embrace the rewards of her hard work and “see her name in lights.”
“And hopefully it sets her up for even bigger goals,” Werner said. “Not just in high school, but swimming in the future.”
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The Miners are battling injuries and absences to key players but expect things to turn around once they get healthy.