Geena Freriks Giving Her All in Final SECs

Photo Courtesy: Elliott Hess/Kentucky Athletics

The Southeastern Conference Swimming & Diving Championships are a meet unlike any other in collegiate swimming.

The meet is five days long, features 12 total schools, and is also co-ed. The Big 12 Conference is the only other major Division I conference that holds a co-ed championship, but that conference only has five teams.

Kentucky senior Geena Freriks, is approaching her final SEC meet this week in Athens, Georgia. When she got to her first SEC championship meet her freshman year in 2016, she was almost blind to the pressures and intensity that the meet would bring, which helped her finish third in the 200 free.

“Even coming out of high school, I wasn’t a swimming focused person until I got to college. It was like a shock for me,” Freriks told Swimming World. “I felt kind of blind going into it and I made finals in the 200 free and our 800 free relay did really well.”

Kentucky finished in eighth place in 2016 at SECs in head coach Lars Jorgensen’s third year. But it was clear at the time he was quickly building something strong in Lexington.

“After SECs freshman year, our team was getting really good really fast,” Freriks said.

Kentucky signed Asia Seidt and Ali Galyer that fall, and both made immediate impacts to the Wildcats as they reached All-American status in their freshmen seasons in 2017.

That year at SECs, Kentucky climbed all the way up to third at the championship meet, tying their highest ever finish at the meet from 1999. The team’s rapid improvement was something that Freriks credited to the Kentucky team being all in on recruiting.

“(Lars) really reinforces if the freshmen class is not faster than the senior class that left the previous year then we are not going to get better as a team. So I think it really makes everyone step up and everyone really gets better. It’s hard not to with all these practices. We are really supportive of each other in practice and our culture has been great. And you have to have good leaders on the team and I think we really do a good job of that.”


Photo Courtesy: Noah J. Richter/Kentucky Athletics

Adjusting to new teammates can be challenging each year. But Freriks noted the Kentucky team has gone on a retreat every year for the last few years to help get the freshmen adjusted to being on the team and for everyone to get to know each other early.

“The first weekend we get here before school starts we help the freshmen move into the dorms, get them all settled in. Usually the next day or the day after, we go on a retreat. This year we went to one of the girls’ lake house and we do a lot of team bonding and getting to know a lot of the freshmen. I think that brings us closer together really quick so I think that’s a lot of fun.”

This coming week, Kentucky will travel in to Athens, Georgia for the SEC Championships. With no clear favorite on the women’s side, Kentucky is in the thick of things for another top four finish. Freriks is approaching her last ever SECs with excitement.

“I’m just going to put it all out on the line. Every relay. Every individual event. Prelims and finals. Everything I have for SECs. And then I’m going to do it all again for NCAAs.

“Especially after this summer, I got a lot of confidence after swimming fast in the morning. I kind of struggled with that, getting up and going in the morning. I did it this summer, so knowing I can do that I am ready for SEC prelims and NCAA prelims because you have to get it done in the morning to make it back to finals.”

Freriks though will not be fully rested for SECs as she will be saving that for NCAAs in a month. Although not being fully tapered won’t necessarily mean she will swim slow, since the atmosphere of the SEC meet is unlike any meet Freriks has experienced.

“My favorite part is definitely having the guys and the girls together,” she said. “Since NCAAs is separate women and men, I think it is the loudest meet we will ever go to, the most people on the pool deck. The guys get hyped for the girls, the girls get hyped for the guys. I think having each other as a full team really makes it exciting.”

The SEC meet is intense but it is also long. The meet will start Tuesday night and will continue all the way to Saturday night for a total of five days. It’s a hard meet to control adrenaline throughout, but Freriks has learned how to manage emotions throughout the long meet, saying it is all about how you come down at the end of each night.

“The first night is the 200 medley relay and the 800 free relay. Both are super exciting and everyone is really ready for them and we’ve talked about it for forever, but you’ve gotta think you still have four days left of the meet. After the first night, it’s really hard to settle down but you have to save your energy, get to bed, and make sure you’re fueling your body the right way.”


Photo Courtesy: Noah J. Richter/Kentucky Athletics

Freriks is entered this week in the 100, 200, 500 and 1650 frees as she will decide over the 100 and 1650 as her third event. She will also be on four relays for the Wildcats as they are ranked as high as second in the 400 medley and third in the 800 free relay. Kentucky has never won a relay at the SEC Championships.

Freriks says she does not train for the mile, but earlier this season she put up a stellar 1000 time in a dual meet with Cincinnati.

“A few weeks before, Lars mentioned like, ‘Hey do you want to suit up for the 1000 at Cincinnati?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ and he was like, ‘That would be the last time you would swim it collegiately. You could get the pool record, it’s like 9:41 I think. 9:41 just sounded fast and he was like, ‘You could go 9:30.'”

Freriks usually does the famous 1000-200 double that so many distance swimmers take part in in college dual meets. But Jorgensen wanted Freriks to give all her attention on the 1000 against Cincinnati and in turn she could swim the 50 instead as her second event.

Freriks said she received no rest for the Cincinnati dual as the team did max hang cleans the day before. She was genuinely surprised with the 9:30.78 she swam at Cincinnati as it is the top time in the country this season ahead of Penn State’s Ally McHugh (9:33.31) and Minnesota’s Mackenzie Padington (9:34.06).

As for SECs in a few days, Freriks said she is particularly excited to watch freshmen Riley GainesIzzy Gatti and Sophie Sorensen perform in their first SEC meet. She noted a lot of freshmen will be stepping up on A relays, which can be nerve-racking for anyone, so she is looking forward to seeing how they swim being in the mix of all the excitement at the meet.

“I don’t think they qualified for NCAAs yet but all three of them have the potential to, so I’m really excited to see how they perform at SECs,” Freriks said.

The Wildcats have never been higher than 12th at NCAAs and third at SECs, and with Freriks leading the way in her senior year, 2019 could be a historic year for the women’s program.