Rhody swimmer bursts onto scene

Rylee Kelly brings resume of success, experience to URI Swim and Dive Team

Kelly was a six-time All–American in high school and has already earned an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award. PHOTO CREDIT: gorhody.com

With an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honor under her belt just two months into her collegiate swimming career, University of Rhode Island freshman Rylee Kelly has already impressed in her short time with the Rams.

 A seven-time All-American in high school, Kelly’s love for swimming developed at a young age. A swimmer since the age of three, she didn’t always see the high level of success she enjoys now.

“I was actually so slow as a kid, my mom wanted me to quit in sixth grade,” Kelly said. “I was so slow, but I still absolutely loved it. All my friends did it, it was just so much fun.”

Kelly’s persistence and love for the sport eventually paid off, as her progression into high school saw her quickly develop into an award-winning swimmer. During her junior and senior years at B. Reed Henderson High School in Chester, Pa., Kelly won seven All-American honors across two events. 

She concluded her high school career in style as part of both the 200 and 400-meter relay teams that placed second in the 2022 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state championship meet. 

Kelly spent the majority of her swimming career swimming for club teams as a member of the Roslyn Swim Club for 15 years. She also spent nine years with Golden Ram Aquatics and two years at the West Chester YMCA.

When the time came for her college search, Rhode Island was one of many options for Kelly. Encouraged by a high school friend, who spoke highly of their experience as a student-athlete at URI, Kelly contacted URI Swimming and Diving Head Coach Lilli Falconer-Deering. After speaking with Deering, meeting the team and visiting campus, Kelly instantly knew that she belonged in Kingston.

“I absolutely loved [coach] Lilli,” Kelly said. “She was a huge reason why I came here. I loved her energy, she had such a good mindset, she had really good team goals. I came on my recruiting trip, and I absolutely loved the girls on the team. They were so nice and welcoming.”

Deering recalled her first contact with Kelly, which began with an email exchange in January 2021. She said that Kelly’s times exceeded their expectations for incoming freshmen.

“Her times were right around the times we were looking for in our juniors, hoping that by senior year they are continuing to improve,” Deering said. 

According to Deering, her high-level times were not the only factor in her recruitment. Her attitude, work ethic, and commitment to improve all spoke to her character as an athlete.

“She felt like [URI] was a good fit for her,” Deering said. “She’s a really, really good kid. She has the attitude and the mindset towards swimming that I was looking for in my recruits, so personality-wise, it was a good fit.”

Kelly has excelled in her first season with Rhode Island, earning an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week Award following her performance in a sweep of Siena and Assumption College on Oct. 15th. During the meet, she won the 1000-meter freestyle event by almost 14 seconds, coming in at 10:57.66. She also won the 500-meter race, finishing at 5:17.15.

Her attitude out of the pool has played a large role in this early success, according to Deering.

“From the first time that we talked on the phone, I got a belief that she was very attentive, asked a lot of questions and was curious to know about specific things,” Deering said.

Deering also commended Kelly on her ability to transition from a smaller club environment to more event-specific training, which has proved beneficial for the entire team this season.

“She’s won quite a few events for us over the last three meets, which is really awesome,” Deering said. “She’s an incredibly hard worker and takes adjustment very well.”

Kelly is already putting up numbers beyond her years, and her college career is just beginning. With plenty of room to develop and improve, she remains focused on helping the team during her time in Rhode Island.

“I just want to swim my best and help the team reach their goals,” Kelly said. “Wherever I fit in with that is good with me.”