Feb. 1, 2014 is a day that Samuel Golovin will never forget. Three years of frustration and disappointment ended for him and the Leonia/Palisades men’s swimming team as they finally clinched the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference (NJIC) championship. The team has not seen a championship since that triumphant day.
“When I was a freshman, swimming was no longer a popular sport at our school because we lost so many seniors,” Golovin said. “Seeing all of the smiles on everyone’s faces after winning the conference title my senior year felt amazing because of all the hard work our team put in [over the years].”
Golovin’s competitive spirit and will to win was a major reason as to why the program was finally able to get over the hump of mediocrity. Now, as a freshman at Montclair State, Golovin is a part of yet another rebuilding program. The Montclair State men’s swimming team are coming off a 3-5 season, and have yet to win a conference title in the program’s storied history.
Being considered the “future of Montclair State swimming” has placed high expectations for a young kid like Golovin, who is the team’s strongest swimmer. This has only motivated him to work harder.
“While being considered the future of the program may spark some pressure,” Golovin said. “It just tells me that I have to continue to work hard and to improve each day to help this team win.”
Golovin was training to become an elite swimmer at a very early age. By seven, he was competing for nationally-ranked youth club teams across the country, swimming against some of the fastest youth athletes in the United States.
Golovin went on to attend Palisades Park High School and competed on Leonia/Palisades Park men’s swimming team, which was a mix of swimmers from Palisades Park and Leonia High Schools.
His talent and hard work at the club level paid off in high school, where Golovin instantly made an impact setting numerous records and earning all-conference and county honors. Along with excelling in the 100 and 200 freestyle, Golovin’s best event in his athletic career was the 100 butterfly. He qualified for the 2018 Meet of Champions in the 100 butterfly, and finished 12th at the 2019 Meet of Champions in the 200 freestyle.
For Golovin though, the best part about swimming in high school was not necessarily all of the accolades he won, but the memories he made with his teammates.
“From the bus rides to cheering on my teammates at meets and being around them, those were some of the best moments of my swimming career,” Golovin said. “Even though the first three years we struggled [to win], we still knew how to have fun no matter what.”
A major storyline that followed Golovin throughout his career was his rivalry with David Son of Secaucus High School. Both Leonia/Palisades and Secaucus swim teams would meet every year for a dual meet and at the NJIC championships, coming down each time to an intense performance of Golovin and Son.
The two often traded wins back and forth between individual events and relay races. The 4×100 relay was where Son and Golovin would often battle against each other, as they anchored their respective relays during their last few seasons of high school.
The most important meet, and the biggest moment in their rivalry, came at the 2019 NJIC Championships, where Golovin finally took the upper hand by sweeping the sprint races and leading his team to a conference title, avenging the team’s second-place finish in 2018.
Despite the intensity of the rivalry inside the pool, Golovin and Son maintained a close friendship outside the pool and even considered attending college together at one point.
“There was no hostility between us outside the pool, the only hostility that existed was that we wanted to beat each other in every event,” Golovin said. “It was always love and support that existed between us, and I appreciated that.”
As for college, Golovin always envisioned himself going Division I, and had the talent and the fast times to do so. However, when Montclair State came calling he had a change of heart.
“One thing that drew me to Montclair State was the coaches,” Golovin said. “I saw their dedication to me and the priority they made me, and it showed that they really cared.”
A huge opportunity was also presented to Golovin this past summer, the Maccabiah Games. This multi-sport event is held every year for Jewish athletes across the world. Golovin and junior field hockey star Yael Yonah were the sole two representatives from Montclair State at the 2019 European Maccabiah Games held in Budapest.
Golovin took home three gold medals for Team USA in the 200 butterfly, 200 freestyle and the 4×100 relay. He also took home two silver and two bronze medals, to bring his medal count to nine.
Golovin discussed how the coaching staff at the Maccabiah Games were able to make it a very relaxed and enjoyable environment for the athletes.
“Our head coach always stressed to us that we should be having fun,” Golovin said. “He always told us to keep a [strong] swimming mindset, but to not stress yourself and enjoy yourself.”
The Maccabiah Games provided a spark of momentum for Golovin coming into the 2019-2020 season as he earned back to back NJAC Rookie of the Week honors in October. There is growing optimism among himself and the team that he will qualify for the NCAA Championship this coming March.
What could be the reason for Golovin’s success? One could point to his fierce competitive nature, or his calmness and ability to perform under pressure even when on the grandest of stages. It is certainly astonishing to see, and the Red Hawks will benefit from having a star like him for years to come.
Senior captain Kevin Gibson has been ecstatic about the way Golovin has pushed everyone on the team to be better.
“He doesn’t let his talent and hard work get in the way of how he handles himself on a day to day basis,” Gibson said. “His spirit and his ability to work with people allow others on the team to get pumped and work harder themselves.”