The University of Kentucky senior swimmer had openly expressed her disappointment in how she performed at the NCAA championships in March at Ohio State University.
The Norwalk native kept her training going, and two months later returned to the pool at the TYR Pro Swim Series Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
“And I did really, really bad,” Freriks said.
She swam her signature race, the 200-meter freestyle, in just 2:04 to place 32nd. She was 16th in the 800 with a time of 8:55.
“That was out of the ordinary for me to do that bad, and I didn't really know what was going on,” Freriks said. “I was pretty upset.”
The whole sequence came after Freriks felt like she also came up short at the SEC championships in February — despite winning the 500 freestyle to become one of three UK swimmers with multiple SEC titles.
“I know I won the 500, but the 200 definitely didn't go as planned and I wasn't as consistent,” Freriks said. “Even on the relays I didn't do as well. I wanted to redeem myself at NCAAs, but again, we don't taper after SECs, we just really focus on NCAAs.
“I didn't feel the best, and my goal was to make the top eight or 16 — and I didn't,” she added. “We didn't have a relay in top eight, so it was a fall backwards from sophomore year when I did so well at NCAAs and won the 200 at SECs. It was a really hard year with school, swimming and everything.”
With one more opportunity left before the U.S. Nationals, Freriks, a 10-time All-Ohioan at Norwalk and Sandusky, was running out of time to leave her mark on 2018.
But she found some momentum by visiting and training at a venue that the some of the world’s greatest swimmers have called home. In the month since, the results stand on their own.
Training in Colorado
Before another scheduled swim in the final TYR Pro Swim Series in Columbus in early July, Freriks and some of her Kentucky teammates were able to train at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Swimming at a higher altitude, Freriks tested her body like never before — and the answers came soon after.
“I always train pretty hard, so it’s never really in question that it’s my training,” she said. “But training at an altitude, it was a game changer. I did stuff at altitude that I never did at sea level with regards to training and practice times.
“I think that really boosted my confidence. I trained really, really well after that — and I think heading into U.S. Nationals that really helped me.”
At the final TYR swim July 6-8, Freriks finished seventh in the 200, 11th in the 800, 14th in the 400 and 16th in the 100 — all notable improvements.
The U.S. Nationals (July 26-29) in Irvine, Calif., was the biggest U.S. swimming event between now and the 2020 Olympic Trials.
It served as a qualifier for the Pan Pacific Games in Tokyo this weekend, and filled out selections for the major 2019 events: the World University Games, World Championships and Pan American Games.
But for Freriks the goal was simply to improve. Instead, she broke the long-course record by a UK swimmer in all four of her events: 100, 200, 800 and 1,500 free swims.
“It was incredible,” Freriks said. “I think it was the best meet of my life, honestly. It was the most consistent I’ve been, on top of being the fastest I’ve ever raced. And all the main people who are going to be at the Olympic Trials were there.”
She placed 33rd in the 100 out of 98 swimmers in 55.68 seconds, improving her seed by 17 positions. Freriks went 18th overall out of 91 swimmers in the 200 (1:59.54) to improve by six spots.
Having never competed in the 1,500 before, all Freriks did was place 19th overall in 16:38.55 — smashing the old UK record of 16:42.80 that had stood for 28 years.
But the big finish came in the 400 free. After qualifying for the ‘A’ finals by winning her heat in a UK record time of 4:08.91, Freriks was assured a top-eight finish in the event.
She entered the finals with the seventh-best time, and moved up a spot to place sixth overall out of 71 swimmers at 4:09.4 — while competing in a race with the dominant Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist.
Freriks — who also swam against and finished ahead of another five-time gold medalist, Missy Franklin, in the 200 — entered as the 24th seed, jumping 18 spots total.
“Placing top eight and being with Katie Ledecky ... I'm good enough to swim with her, and it's eye-opening,” Freriks said. “And being next to Missy Franklin in the 200, that was awesome, because she's so nice.
“Racing and competing with Olympians is an ultimate experience. It was really fun.”
National team possible
Freriks performed so well that she may have landed herself a spot on one of those U.S. travel teams in 2019.
With the sixth-place finish in the 400, Freriks is in the running for a possible selection for the U.S. team that will compete at the World University Games. Held every two years, it’s the largest multi-sport event in the world apart from the Olympics.
The top two swimmers in the event are not eligible, as neither is in college and are already swimming in two national events prior to the WU Games.
The next two swimmers eligible also have to be in college, which eliminates the third-place finisher, Haley Anderson, a 26-year-old Olympian.
As strange as it sounds, whether Freriks gets to go may depend on whether fourth-place finisher Kaersten Meitz is enrolled in any classes this fall. She was a senior last year at Purdue.
The fifth-place finisher, Sierra Schmidt, of Michigan, will likely be going with Freriks if Meitz isn’t enrolled.
“It’s really confusing, but we’ll find out in September,” Freriks said. “Obviously, really hoping for that, but either way, very excited with how things have gone this summer.”
With her senior year of college upon her — followed by the Olympic Trials in 2020 — Freriks feels she’s in a good place. She is a two-time SEC champion, six-time NCAA All-American, three-time NCAA Academic All-American and a U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier entering her final season at Kentucky.
“Now that I know I can compete with those girls, I have to believe I can do it at every meet and be more consistent with that mindset,” she said. ““My training is pretty good and I always work hard with that, so it’s just keep doing what I'm doing there.
“My coach (Lars Jorgensen) and I have an awesome relationship. I’ll be a captain again, so leading the team is really important for me, too.”