McHenry senior Michaela Matthys is a pool rat.
A day after competing in the girls swimming state finals Nov. 22 at New Trier in Winnetka, Matthys was at Barrington swimming in a club meet. The next day, she was back at her home pool after school as the manager for the Warriors’ boys swimming team. Later that evening, she practiced with her club team.
Matthys said being around the sport constantly has a positive impact on her, whether she’s competing or not. The best part for Matthys is the team aspect of swimming.
“I know it’s going to pay off in the long run,” Matthys said. “[The boys] consider me a part of the team.”
Matthys fulfilled a longtime goal this season when she qualified for state in the 100-yard butterfly at the Vernon Hills Sectional. After missing out on state her previous three tries, Matthys did more than just qualify. She beat the qualifying time by more than two seconds and recorded the ninth-fastest sectional time in the state.
At state she just missed swimming in the consolation finals with a 13th-place finish.
Before state, Matthys won co-MVP honors at the Fox Valley Conference Championships at Woodstock North after winning the 100 backstroke and butterfly.
For her accomplishments, Matthys is the Northwest Herald Girls Swimmer of the Year, as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Also given consideration was Cary-Grove junior Melissa Rose, who qualified for state for the third consecutive year in the breaststroke.
Matthys’ qualifying for state was an emotional, physical and mental journey. It began her freshman year when Matthys led in the last heat of the butterfly at the Vernon Hills Sectional. She could not hold the lead and missed the qualifying time.
Going out that fast and not being able to finish haunts her even today.
“[Matthys] still has the ghost of going out fast and not doing well at the end,” Warriors coach Mike Shanahan said.
For Matthys, it was both a mental and strategic hurdle.
“That was so painful,” Matthys said. “It really freaked me out to go out too fast. I was afraid of feeling that again.”
Shanahan said the biggest difference this year was that Matthys was healthy. She had been plagued by sickness and colds, but that improved after getting her tonsils and adenoids out this year.
“This is the only year she’s ever been able to put together a training year,” Shanahan said. “She was determined right from the start of the year to go hard.”
Matthys points to her improved practice habits as a big factor in her success this season. With her natural talent she didn’t need to work as hard as some and still succeed. Practice was as much a social event as a workout.
“I was not a practicer at all because it always came easy to me,” she said. “[My teammates] still think I don’t take it seriously.”
Matthys wanted to prove this year that you could take training seriously and still have fun.
“If you’re not going to have fun with the sport, there’s no point in ever doing it,” Matthys said. “I took it upon myself to work hard but still have fun while doing it. I wanted to be a role model for that.”
Another hurdle Matthys had to overcome was being content with herself no matter the outcome. She worried that if she didn’t make it to state, her coaches would be disappointed and think of her as a failure.
“I didn’t sleep the entire week before sectionals. I put so much pressure on myself,” Matthys said. “I was so nervous I would let [my coaches] down.”
Shanahan said those were feelings he never wanted to instill or encourage in any of his swimmers. He told a tearful Matthys that before her butterfly heat at sectionals.
“You don’t want kids to feel like that,” Shanahan said. “You want them to feel like when they’ve done all they can, that’s enough.”
Matthys had gone under the state qualifying time in butterfly several times during the season and the week before sectionals at the FVC Championships. Getting past those emotional hurdles proved to be just as big a challenge.
“I was crying right up to the blocks,” Matthys said. “Believing in myself was the biggest part that led me to state.”