Jun. 20—LEXINGTON, Ky. — The passion never went away.
In fact, once Geena Freriks ended her legendary swimming career, her passion for the sport only grew stronger.
"I truly saw my future in elite level athletics and wanted to be a part of developing athletes to get to the next level," Freriks said.
That passion and mindset is what also led the lifelong Norwalk resident back to Lexington, Ky. On June 8, the University of Kentucky announced the two-time SEC champion and 10-time school record holder was returning to the program as an assistant coach.
"There are a lot of athletes that fall out of love with the sport after years of practice, but for me it has always been different," Freriks said. "I was coached by Michael Camper, Lars Jorgensen, and Maclin Simpson — and now I have the opportunity to coach alongside them. It is truly a dream come true."
After rewriting the record book at Kentucky, Freriks spent the past two years as a graduate assistant coach at Ball State University, where she was working on her Master's degree in sports administration at the Muncie, Ind. school.
During that time period, the BSU women's swim team placed fifth at the Mid-American Conference championships in 2021 — the program's best finish in 16 years.
Ball State saw success at the MAC Championships in 2021 and 2022 with Freriks on staff. In total, the Cardinals collected a combined 18 medals and broke 21 school records at the conference meet during those two years. The team also produced its first men's individual swimming medalist since 2006 and its first on the women's side since 2014.
"This was the first experience I had on the other side of swimming, and I absolutely loved it," Freriks said. "I graduated from Ball State in May. I was still unsure of what my next step was going to be.
"Eventually, everything fell into place and I ended up back where I belong."
During her last year of grad school in Muncie, Freriks was having a hard time narrowing down her future career.
"Obviously I love swimming, and in a perfect world I was going to be a swim coach for an elite program," Freriks said. "I was also very interested in various administrative roles in a college athletic department. I wanted to keep my options open and I was applying for many different positions across the United States."
Then, her former head coach at UK, Lars Jorgensen came calling.
"We are incredibly excited to welcome back such an accomplished alumna of our program to join our coaching staff," Jorgensen said. "Geena has proven herself as a leader in and out of the pool, and her experience will benefit our student-athletes in countless ways."
After a high school career that saw her finish as a 10-time All-Ohioan at Norwalk and Sandusky, Freriks was a standout for the Wildcats from 2015-2019.
The four-time NCAA qualifier earned All-America Honorable Mention recognition nine times, including a first team selection in 2017. She was an 11-time individual SEC finalist, winning the 200-meter freestyle as a sophomore and the 500 free as a junior. The freestyle specialist also picked up one silver and four bronze medals during her SEC career.
Freriks was All-SEC first team in 2017 and 2018, as well as second team in 2016 and 2019.
A two-time team captain, Freriks is still the current UK program record holder in 10 events: including the 100, 200, 400, 500, 800, 1,000, 1,500 and 1,650 freestyles; and as part of the 400 and 800 relays. She also ranks third all-time in the 200 free and fourth in the 100 free.
Academically, Freriks graduated from UK in 2020 with a degree in dietetics while minoring in business. She was a four-time College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America Scholar All-America first team selection, and was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll each of her four years in the blue and white.
Freriks said words cannot describe how happy she is to be back at Kentucky and helping the next generation of swimmers.
"Lexington has always been home for me," she said. "I spent five years here and developed into the person I am today. I have had a very close friendship with Lars for years, and coaching with him has been a blast. I have a passion for developing swimmers, and that is our mission here at UK."
Freriks went on to say the goal at UK is to develop each athlete both in and out of the water.
"I had an incredible experience here when I was a swimmer," she said. "My goal is to give back to this university and the athletic department to provide these athletes with the best four years possible.
"In addition, I want to learn and adapt to Lars's coaching philosophy and demand the best for this program."
For now, Freriks sees the return to Kentucky as a long-term one.
"As of right now, I do not see myself ever leaving Lexington," she said. "The University of Kentucky is an incredible school and I see myself working here for a very long time. Of course, plans can change, but I am very happy and thrilled to be back at my alma mater.
"I have a lot to learn, but I never shy away from being pushed outside of my limits."