Fairfax native reflects on Mason swimming career

For some college athletes, it can be tough to put aside personal goals and to place the team before themselves.

After an acclaimed high school career, senior swimmer Joey Kelly had to put his role on Mason’s swim team and his passion for swimming in perspective after falling short of personal goals.

Kelly dedicated himself to swimming in the 10th grade when he joined the Mason Makos youth swimming team. While swimming for the Makos, who practice at the Aquatic and Fitness Center, Kelly attracted the attention of Mason’s head swimming and diving coach, Peter Ward, who also coached for the Makos.

“I knew that he had a great deal of talent and was just kind of scratching the surface in high school on how good he could be, so I was very interested in getting him to come to school here,” Ward said.

Kelly’s high school career did not start out the way he had hoped. In his sophomore year, Kelly barely placed in any events that he competed in at the state tournament. Even at that time, Coach Ward believed in Kelly’s abilities.

“I remember talking to Peter and him saying, ‘by the time you’re a senior, you’ll be winning that,’ and I didn’t believe him,” Kelly said.

It was not until Kelly’s junior year that he began to gain confidence in his abilities as a swimmer and felt he really broke out after placing third at states in the 50M freestyle and fifth in the 100M freestyle. In his senior year of high school, Kelly won both the 50M and 100M freestyle Virginia state championships. Because of his finish, Kelly earned an honor on the Washington Post’s All-Met swimming team in 2010.

In Kelly’s freshman year at Mason, he again faced struggles acclimating himself with the increased workouts, training and competition at the collegiate level.

“I did what I wanted to do, mostly, I reached pretty much all my goals. I wanted to prove to everybody that even though I was a freshman I could still help them compete,” Kelly said. “Freshman year was mostly survive, and then sophomore year I got to actually start training at a higher caliber.”

Kelly made strides in his sophomore year, winning relay medals in meets, but he did not reach any individual goals that he was aiming to accomplish. At the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., Kelly focused on making the time standard for that summer after being reinvigorated by a personal record at a post-season exhibition meet.

“A couple weeks after conferences, I hadn’t really been swimming that much, but I really wanted to qualify for Olympic Trials. I thought I would be pretty close, so after [the exhibition meet], I dedicated myself that spring and the first part of summer to get a trials cut,” Kelly said. “I swam my meet and missed [the cut] by about .3 seconds, so that was pretty hard to deal with.”

Kelly’s slim defeat at Olympic trials brought about a strain of doubt and defeat.

“During [Olympic Trials], I just felt like I kind of let myself down and it kind of messed with my head a bit for the rest of summer. I didn’t really want to swim anymore that summer,” Kelly said. “I was not really taking things too seriously and I needed a break.”

After a month to reflect, Kelly came back to Mason for his junior year re-energized and determined to train harder and act as one of the leaders to younger swimmers.

“[Kelly] very much likes being part of the team and a team leader. He understands what’s made him better and wants to see others do the same thing. He’s become a very good team player,” Ward said.

Kelly embraces his role as a leader and upperclassman on the team and is proud of his fellow senior swimmers in changing the culture of the swimming team.

“When I was a freshman, it was kind of hard because I felt like not necessarily that we were being judged, but that it was harder to impress the upperclassmen. Not that it was a bad thing or anything, but that was just kind of the way things were,” Kelly said. “Not only me, but our freshman class in general, has brought the team up with a much more positive attitude.” For the upcoming season, Kelly is focused on the team’s performance and wants to make a statement in Mason’s first season competing in the Atlantic 10.

“I’m pretty focused on the team right now. With this being our inaugural year in the A-10, I really want us to come in there, guns blazing, and just show everybody like, yeah, we’re ready to out-swim you guys and we’re ready to compete,” Kelly said. “We’ll show them what we’re all about.”

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