Athlete of the Month: Andrew's Friel Enjoys the Last Laugh
Watch: Andrew freshman Caily Friel recreates her state-finalist performance in the 100-yard breaststroke in a Patch video.
Kelly Matusik created the environment. Caily Friel created the excitement.
Friel, an Andrew High School freshman, powered to a 12th-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke event at the IHSA girls state swimming meet.
She recorded a season-best and school-record time of 1:06.01 in the prelims on Friday, Nov. 16, at Evanston Township High School. Then, she was clocked in 1:06.31 on Saturday, Nov. 17, while becoming the first Andrew freshman to reach the girls swimming state finals since Olympic silver medalist Christine Magnuson at the turn of the new millennium.
Friel is recognized today for her fast work as Southland Patch’s Athlete of the Month for November. She started shaving precious seconds off her time in the 100 breast as soon as she started opening up and having more fun with her new teammates in the pool at Andrew.
Matusik, coach of the T-Bolts girls swim team, gets credit for pushing all the right buttons. She took the drudgery out of Friel’s daily workout routines and turned them into grin-and-bear-it moments by bringing Skittles to practice and introducing her to a game of Andrew swim monopoly.
The emphasis here was on the grins.
On occasion, Matusik would pull out Skittles candies and call for her girls each to pick one. The different colors represented the different strokes they had to swim during the next practice set.
In the Andrew swim monopoly game, Matusik let her girls roll the dice and move their pieces around a special T-Bolt playing board. Each property on the board was labeled with a different practice set.
“Well, Skittles was so much fun,” Friel said. “I would always been in Lane 1 with the two other girls that I loved. We would always try to pick the purple one, and that would be like freestyle or backstroke. That would be an easy set.
“But I would always get the red one, and that would be ‘fly.’ I would be so mad. I would be like, ‘Oh, I see, the freshman always chooses fly.’ We’d laugh. It does make it fun.”
Matusik said Friel was very quiet at the outset of the T-Bolts’ swim season.
“But toward the middle and the end of the season, you got to see the real Caily, who likes to have fun,” Matusik said. “She can be goofy and silly at times. She’s always respectful. She’s a nice girl.
“The success happened after she was having fun. I think that all helped make the end of the season as good as it was.”
Friel said her mind tends to wander when she is in the pool, churning out laps before and after school, the yards turning to miles as dawn turns to dusk.
“Sometimes, when I’m doing sets of 200s, I’m like, ‘Oh, I forgot I was swimming for a second,’ ” she said. “I think so much when I’m swimming. I think about what I’m going to do after practice or a book—something, anything, really, to take my mind off going back-and-forth in the pool.”
Friel is on a path that likely will take her beyond back-and-forth, to places far removed from the pool at Andrew. She was a junior Olympics state champ when she was 13 years old. She was swimming then with the Tinley Park Gills.
Now, she is chasing down Magnuson on the T-Bolts record board, which hangs on the wall at the far end of the Andrew pool.
“She’s my role model,” Friel said. “I’ve met her—twice, I would say, once at a parade after she got her silver medal in Beijing. And I know her dad. He coaches at (Lincoln-Way) North. I always talk to him.”
Friel said she thinks about what Magnuson accomplished and dreams of following in her footsteps.
“I hope I can be ‘The Next Christine Magnuson,’ ” Friel said. “I don’t want to take her spot or anything. I just want to be like her. She’s such an inspiration.”
Frank Muchna, coach of the Andrew boys swim team and the Tinley Park Gills, said Friel started swimming competitively at the age of 10. She also plays water polo and is a member of the Andrew Swim Guard program. She teaches swim lessons to children. And she maintains an A-B average in the classroom.
“No, she wasn’t a natural,” Muchna said. “She had to work at it—a lot of hard work. But, by the time she was 13, she was a state champion. She went on and swam in zones, regionals, represented Team Illinois, that sort of thing.”
Muchna pictures Friel representing Andrew equally well as she pushes forward.
“It’s hard to say what she might do,” he said. “Her potential is phenomenal. She’s a hard-working kid. She keeps her nose to the grindstone. Hopefully, in another year or two, she will be a state champion on the high school level. That would be nice.”
And that would touch Muchna’s heart.
“I like to see kids go on and have successful careers,” he said. “We had Christine Magnuson come through this program—the Olympic swimmer. Look what she ended up doing. It would be nice to have something like that happen again.
“But we just want to keep Caily happy and have her swimming good. That seems to work well.”