Keely Soellener finds early success for Iowa State swimming


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Freshman Keely Soellner swims the 1000-yard freestyle during the meet against Nebraska at Beyer Hall Oct. 8 at 11 a.m.. Soellner lost her goggles and swim cap during the event, but went on to finish third with a time of 10:37.88.

Rachel Given

Driving an hour to practice every day was only a small bump in Iowa State freshman Keely Soellner’s road to collegiate swimming.

Soellner, a Galva, Iowa, native, started swimming in the sixth grade after she saw a flyer at school for the Storm Lake Whitecaps, a competitive club team in her area.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love swimming, I want to try that,’” Soellner said.

Without hesitation, her parents signed her up.

But finding the perfect club team didn’t fit Soellner likes pieces to a puzzle either. Through multiple different club seasons, coach departures and four different club teams, Soellner wanted stability.

She watched a fellow swim friend grow to levels she had only dreamed of and decided she could do the same. As a junior in high school, she made a switch to the Ames Cyclone Aquatics Club.

Soellner played many other sports growing up, including volleyball, softball and dance. While she didn’t think she would be able to play softball or volleyball at the collegiate level, she had a different idea. Soellner wanted the prune fingers, chlorine-stricken hair and friendships that would stick with her longer.

“I knew I wanted to do something in college,” Soellner said. “Swimming was my first choice, and my favorite.”

The drive from Galva to Ames was hefty and clocked in at just over two hours. Luckily for Soellner, the ACAC had a sister location in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It was still a bit of a drive for Soellner, but she was determined to make the just-over-an-hour feat to practice every day.

The travel took a toll on Soellner academically, but her determination to swim in college remained strong.

“I really wanted to swim in college,” Soellner said. “I wanted to do well [in school], so I made myself do well [in school].”

Being an only child, Soellner didn’t have to compete for her parents’ attention or support. Iowa State assistant head coach Kelly Nordell said Soellner has brought some of the biggest fan sections she has ever seen in her many years of coaching.

Soellner said she’s “pretty sure” at least one of her parents, if not both, have been to every single one of her swim meets throughout her entire swimming career as well.

“It’s really nice to know that I always have people cheering me on,” Soellner said. “I always get a text from someone saying good luck. It’s such a good feeling.”

Soellner has been cruising in distance races as a freshman for Iowa State this season, but she wasn’t always a distance swimmer. She swam her first 500-yard freestyle as a junior in high school.

While training, her previous coaches would say she would become a distance swimmer in college. Soellner remembered her coaches constantly telling her how strong her pull through the water was.

Hesitant of the idea, Soellner brushed it off.

Then she met Nordell and head swim coach Duane Sorenson.

Sorenson said there are a number of factors that contribute to Soellner’s success as a distance swimmer. He said she’s aerobic and fit, which allows a lower heart rate than everyone else in longer sets at practice. When she competes, her heart isn’t working as hard as everyone else.

Additionally, her stroke is “very efficient,” not wasting much energy when she swims. Sorenson also said Soellner has “tremendous turns,” helping her gain ground in races while others lose ground. Finally, Sorenson believes her competitiveness gives her the extra push needed in close races.

“She’s a fierce, fierce competitor,” Sorenson said. “She can will herself to greatness because she’s so competitive with everyone and [she] has no fear.”

The first time the coaching duo put Soellner into the 1,000-yard freestyle race, Soellner remembered how excited she was. She only swam the race once and knew she would drop time no matter what the outcome was.

“I was going into it, ‘You’re gonna go your best time’,” Soellner said.

Sorenson added Soellner’s name to the 1,000-yard freestyle race’s lineup in the first official meet of the season against Nebraska.

Soellner took third in a time of 10:37.88, despite losing both her cap and goggles midway through the race. Little did she know that lone race started a path that no other Cyclone swimmer has paved.

Sorenson’s intuition on Soellner’s distance led him to put her in the event again against TCU. Soellner took first in the 1,000-yard freestyle and took off more than 20 seconds of her first time, clocking in at 10:17.52.

Sorenson said Nordell saw glimpses of greatness in the preseason.

“We always knew that she was good based off of this very limited training [with ACAC],” Sorenson said. “We thought once she got into a complete training program she would blossom. She’s a year ahead of where we thought she would be … because sometimes it takes kids a full year for their body to adapt to all these changes.”

The annual Cy-Hawk rivalry between Iowa State and Iowa revved up the swim team, but the Cyclones lost. Despite the loss, Soellner shaved another 20-plus seconds off her time and toppled the Iowa State record for the 1,000-yard freestyle race.

The new record is now Soellner’s at 9:56.76, but it didn’t hit the freshman right after she touched the pad.

“I didn’t feel like I was going that fast, and I didn’t know I could go that fast,” Soellner said. “It was just a shock.”

Sorenson knew the change of pace for training also contributed to her success.

“She was only able to train once a day and not six days a week, twice a day, like we do,” Sorenson said. “Just by increasing her training, [she] has built her aerobic base that she’s able to maintain that speed for a longer period of time.”

Sorenson joked that Soellner’s fast success makes the coaching staff look great but quickly added Soellner’s ego hasn’t been inflated.

“She is a very down-to-earth person,” Sorenson said. “She is very appreciative when people give her a compliment and doesn’t blow off people. She’s got the right persona.”