Reilly Donnellan took a break from swimming in middle school and admits he didn’t take it real seriously when he started back up as a sophomore at Neenah High School.
He rediscovered his passion for the sport late in his sophomore year, and by the time he was a senior he had grown into one of the best swimmers in the state.
Donnellan won the state championship this year in the 50-yard freestyle, had two other top-five finishes at state, and for his efforts has been named Post-Crescent Media’s athlete of the year in boys’ swimming.
Year in school: Senior.
Family: Parents, James and Anne; older sisters, Molly and Caelainn.
Achievements: State champion in the 50-yard freestyle and also won the sectional and Fox Valley Association meet … fifth at state in the 100 freestyle, second at the sectional and first at the FVA meet … on 200 medley relay team that finished second at state and first at the sectional … on 200 freestyle relay team that finished sixth at state … plans to attend UW-Stevens Point and swim for the Pointers.
You won the state title in the 50 freestyle. Take me through that race. How do you approach a race like that?
“With the 50 especially, and with this being the last meet of the year, that’s where everything you worked on over the whole season comes together. So it’s really just getting into race mode and just going as fast as you can and everything you’ve worked on comes together. That’s the nature of the 50.”
What’s more important in a race like that, and in swimming in general, strength or technique?
“I feel they’re all equally important. You really can’t have a weak one to execute on. It’s really a perfection kind of race. If you have a lot of strength but not a lot of technique or really good technique but not a lot of strength, it’s not going to be as successful as if you have a combination of both of them.”
After you won the 50 and you were on the podium, what was that moment like?
“Really just a lot of taking it all in because of all the work that I have put in over the years, especially how far I have come just this last year alone. Just taking in the enjoyment and seeing all the crowd was really awesome.”
Could you ever have imagined that you’d be a state champion?
“Absolutely not. I didn’t really have that as a goal until a couple of weeks before the state meet. My sophomore year I was really shooting for what now would be very achievable goals for me. I would never really have imagined I’d get anywhere near close to where I am today in swimming. … To see all the hard work pay off like that was really awesome.”
Do you like the individual events better or the relay events?
“I really like the relay events. I really like being a team player and helping everyone working together like that. Having all four guys be happy is really cool.”
So how cool was it to get on the podium in the relay events at state?
“I was really happy about that, because all four of our guys really executed really well. We got a couple really young ones on the team who really stepped up when we needed them to. It’s unusual to have freshmen on the relay like that, so it was really awesome to see them step up.”
What is it like to put in so many laps for practice?
“When it pays off like that, it’s a ton of fun and it’s really exhilarating to see all of your hard work pay off like that, because you know how hard you worked for that one moment and to see it come together like that is probably the coolest thing in athletics and it’s probably the reason why we all swim.”
Does swimming take more out of you mentally or physically?
“The week before state was pretty mentally stressful and exhausting because that week, with all the seeds coming in from sectionals, I knew how close the 50 was going to be. So it was a real mental stresser throughout the whole week thinking about it. It was our taper at that point, so it was pretty mentally draining and pretty physically easy. Once that was over, it was a huge weight off my shoulders and it was a pretty big relief. So definitely around championship season it’s really mentally exhausting.”
When did you start swimming and how did you get started?
“I did it as a summer sport when I was pretty young and I wasn’t very good at it, so I took a break around eighth grade and I really actually took swimming seriously and started swimming for high school my sophomore year. Swimming all the way through, taking a break in spring and then swimming all the way through my senior year.”
Besides Neenah, what’s your favorite place to swim or compete?
“My favorite place to swim is the Natatorium for the state meet just because how it’s the biggest meet in the state, so many people show up for it and there’s a ton of energy at that pool.”
How much have you improved as a swimmer from the first day of practice your sophomore year to where you are now?
“My sophomore year I joined it to have fun. A lot of people had encouraged me to try out for swimming. So really my sophomore year was just taking it all in, having a lot of fun. I wasn’t really working as hard as I could have been. It was at the end of my sophomore year when I did all right at a sectional meet and I decided that I could really take this somewhere. I decided to really, throughout my junior year especially, bust my butt and then all the way through my senior year I really pushed myself to see how far I could go.”
A few favorites
Hobby: “Lifting weights and listening to music. Those are probably my two favorite things to do when I have some free time.”
Music: “I really listen to everything. I will listen to rap, country, pop. Really whatever I’m in the mood for is what I will listen to.”
School subject: “Science.”
— Mike Sherry: 920-993-1000, ext. 289, or email@example.com; on Twitter @MikeSherry14
POST-CRESCENT MEDIA ALL-AREA SWIM TEAM
Reilly Donnellan, Sr., Neenah: See profile on D-1.
Manny Hernandez, Sr., Appleton North/East: Fourth at state, second at the sectional and first at the Fox Valley Association meet in the 200-yard freestyle … third at state, first in the sectional and at the FVA meet in the 500 freestyle … on 200 medley relay team that finished fourth at state … on 400 freestyle relay team that finished sixth at state.
Garner Kohrell, Jr., Appleton North/East: Third at state in the 100 butterfly, first in the sectional and first at the FVA meet … third at state in the 100 backstroke, first at the sectional and first at the FVA meet … on 200 medley relay team that finished fourth at state … on 400 freestyle relay team that finished sixth at state.
Maxwell Boehnlein, So., Neenah: 22nd at state in the 200 individual medley, second at the sectional and second at the FVA meet … 15th at state in the 100 breaststroke and second at the sectional … on 200 medley relay team that finished second at state and first at the sectional meet.
Kyle Hrubecky, Sr., Neenah: Eighth at state in the 100 backstroke, second at the sectional and second at the FVA meet … on 200 medley relay team that finished second at state and first at the sectional … on 200 freestyle relay team that finished sixth at state.
Matt Wilke, So., Appleton North/East: Finished eighth at the state meet in diving … took second place at the sectional meet and second at the FVA meet.
Joshua Yahr, Jr., Appleton North/East: Finished 13th at the state meet … won the sectional championship and also finished first at the FVA meet.
Connor Deitrich, Sr., Appleton North/East; Eli Rocke, Fr., Neenah; Josiah Vandenberg, So., Appleton North/East; Jake Enz, Jr., Neenah; Codie Hayes, So., Chilton/Brillion/Valders; Jordan Appel, Sr., Chilton/Brillion/Valders; Shane Murphy-Pociask, Sr., Appleton North/East; Karsen Sherrick, So., Neenah.