It's easy to miss Justin Plaschka. He's not flashy or loud or very outgoing and doesn't make a very big splash about things. Maybe not what you'd expect from the best swimmer on his team.
But though Plaschka is quiet and simply wants to blend in, he darts back and forth through the water like a torpedo as he rewrites the record book at Hauppauge High School. The junior has set four school records this season -- three of them in one meet -- and he now holds every individual stroke record (eight in all) in Hauppauge school history.
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One of the best-kept secrets on Long Island, Plaschka just might be the best athlete you haven't heard of yet. His humble demeanor would tell you he's as average as anyone else.
"He was always like that," said Hauppauge assistant Brandon Modrov, who has coached Plaschka for more than seven years. "He's not the type that pumps his chest or screams or yells, but he's still very intense. It's a quiet intensity, and he's had that since he was 9."
Still, there's an air of self-assurance about Plaschka, a belief in himself that no one can beat him.
"I have a lot of self-confidence, but I keep it to myself," Plaschka said. "I don't feel like I have to show everyone how confident I am, I just go out and swim."
"His demeanor is fantastic," said John Pisano, who has coached Plaschka on the Team Suffolk club team since he was 11. "He's extremely humble, but that fire is definitely inside of him and you could tell. When he steps up on the blocks, he turns into a different person."
Typically, swimmers might specialize in just two or three events and it can be challenging to master all four swim strokes. Also, it's not often that sprinters can dominate in distance events. So for Plaschka to be skilled to the point where he is setting records in all events is nothing short of remarkable.
"Justin is the Michael Phelps around here," Modrov said. "He can do any event and he pretty much wins everything."
That's a combination of his own hard work, and the coaching he receives from Modrov, Pisano and Hauppauge head coach Rich Lionetti.
"He's the full package in terms of doing his best in every practice, listening to his coaches, and applying what he's been taught to a level where he breaks down everything so he can master it," Lionetti said.
"It's his dedication," Modrov said. "So many kids come in here with a lot of talent, but they don't do anything with it. Justin is extremely talented, but he's taken his ability and worked at it constantly to get to where he is."
Lionetti and Modrov said they let Plaschka swim every event because they felt it would've been a disservice to not give him the opportunity to go for every record. But three in one meet?
Recalling that home meet Jan. 22 against Smithtown, Plaschka said, "My coaches put me in the events and I thought, 'Might as well go for it.' "
And the records fell -- one, two, three: 1 minute, 54.26 seconds in the 200 individual medley; 21.03 on the leadoff leg (50 yards) of the 200 freestyle relay; 1:01.11 in the 100 breaststroke.
"To do three in one day, it was awesome," Modrov said. "I'll never forget watching that. The last record he broke was mine and I was so excited for him."
Earlier this season, Plaschka swam a record 4:40.19 in the 500 freestyle. Last season, he broke four Hauppauge records (100 and 200 freestyles, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke), was named outstanding swimmer of Suffolk County meet and placed third in the 100 butterfly in the state meet.
Between varsity and club, Plaschka swims about 31/2 hours six days a week. He said his best stroke is butterfly and he thinks breaststroke was the most difficult to learn. In school, he is enrolled in all honors classes and he said he might like to attend an Ivy League college.
But his coaches have high hopes for what he can do before he graduates.
"I think next year, he has to set his sights on county, state and national records," Lionetti said. "That's the next threshold he has to accomplish, and I think he will."
For now, though, Plaschka has only one goal. "I want us to repeat as league champions," he said. "An individual record is just one person, but to get the team banners, the whole team has to do well, and that's more of an incredible feat."
Said Lionetti: "He's the best teammate I've ever seen. He's incredibly supportive of the other kids. For a coach to have someone like that on the team, it's almost a gift from God."