Kelsey Floyd is now known for her barrage of athletic achievements.
When the Tennessee senior swimmer curls her toes around the lip of the starting block and plunges into the pool, she is justly recognized for her 18 All-American honors.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
While Floyd will get the opportunity to further her list of accomplishments beginning today at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, she was once known to Matt Kredich as merely a “hunch.”
Perched in a seat rolled a few feet from his desk, the Tennessee coach hunched his shoulders over the chair back and let out a sigh saturated with reflection.
“It’s a funny story actually,” he said.
At first, Kredich’s interest in Floyd had little to do
with her performance in the water, rather a conversation had next to it.
Patrolling poolside at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, Kredich was keenly eyeballing the nation’s top talent.
During his inspection, Kredich found himself in a conversation with Floyd’s mother, Julie.
The discussion was lengthy yet routine, touching on everything from hometowns to alma maters.
But the result of the chat was anything but ordinary. That pool-side talk led to a phone call.
And that phone call led to a hunch.
“To me, that was kind of a hook,” Kredich said. “I thought I had to pursue this. I had a feeling — a hunch. I thought it was a really cool story.”
Kredich was diagnosed with testicular cancer during his sophomore season at Duke. His treatment required two major surgeries, one of which was a procedure to remove several tumors from his lungs.
It just so happens that Floyd’s father, Richard, was in the operating room that day, completing his residency with Kredich’s thoracic surgeon at Duke.
“It’s a small thing, but it got me really interested in her,” Kredich said.
But it didn’t take long for Kredich to realize that Floyd was much more than an interesting story.
It took just a few phone calls. This time with Floyd on the line instead of her mother.
“After talking to Kelsey, you could tell she was really special,” Kredich said. “You could tell she had a burning drive to keep getting better. You could tell she was a huge, huge competitor.”
And Floyd’s characteristic competitiveness shined during her very first practice at Tennessee.
But once again, her capabilities weren’t recognized in the pool, rather in a huddle next to it.
Walking through the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center doors for the first time, Floyd gathered the team’s seniors.
With the seasoned group crowded around her, Floyd asked them to tell her everything she needed to know to be successful.
“Freshmen just don’t do that,” Kredich laughed. “I didn’t find out about the meeting till way later. You could tell she wanted to be good before she even got in the water.”
But when she did finally dip into the pool, the story remained the same.
Her competitive nature glowed. Her work ethic flourished.
“She’ll say she wants to beat you right to your face,” Kredich said. “Then she’ll smile about it. She’ll race you and whoever wins, she’ll still be smiling. It’s amazing.
“That work ethic, the drive and that joy for competition is the greatest gift she has given this program. It has been contagious since the moment she got here.”
During one of the team’s first workouts in the 2009 season, Kredich was scanning the pool lanes during an ordinary kicking drill.
Glancing across the water, he spotted Floyd generously beating the pack.
The coach promptly marched across the tile, thinking Floyd had misunderstood the workout.
“I thought she had her fins on,” he said. “The way she was killing everybody, I could have sworn she must have misunderstood and put her fins on.”
Reaching Floyd’s lane, he peered into the water.
Sure enough, she wasn’t wearing fins.
“No fins — she was just working that hard,” Kredich said. “I told her after watching her swim for a month or so that I thought she could be one of the best freestylers that has ever gone to Tennessee.”
While Kredich isn’t shy to say Floyd has lived up to that lofty expectation — pointing to her countless first-place finishes — Floyd says what she’ll remember when she reflects on her collegiate career can’t be measured in medals.
“I’ll think about the relationships, like it’s really hard to express how much (Kredich) has meant to me,” said Floyd, who will swim in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly in addition to several relays. “I’ll never forget that and I’ll think of how my experience here helped me grow as a person, not just an athlete. That’s what it’s all about, anyway. That’s what lasts.”
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor.