All Done in Athens

Kailia Utley closes out junior season swimming in two events at NCAA Championships

ATHENS, Ga. — The first member of the Vanderbilt swimming program to qualify for the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in 35 years, Kailia Utley wrapped up the Commodores’ 2023-24 campaign after competing in two different events this weekend at the Jack Bauerle Pool at the Gabrielsen Natatorium.

The junior from Huntington Beach, California, recorded a time of 53.01 in preliminary heats of the 100 butterfly on Friday, a mark that was .09 seconds off her career-best—also the school record in the event—set at last month’s SEC Championships. On Saturday, she returned to the pool and touched the wall in 1:56.37 in the 200 butterfly to place 31st overall in preliminaries.

“It was an amazing experience. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at this meet,” Utley said. “It is so inspiring to be in the same airspace race next to some of the fastest girls in history. It is also everyone’s last meet of the season, so this meet has such a fun and upbeat atmosphere. One of my favorite parts of this weekend, though, is the community that this meet builds and strengthens. We sat with the Arkansas girls who we sit with at SECs too, so I felt right at home. They have been beyond supportive of me, and I absolutely loved watching them swim too.

“Additionally, there are so many girls here that were either on my club team in high school or that I grew up swimming club with. This meet was like one big reunion, since we go to different schools all over the nation. I got to meet and talk to such kind, amazing swimmers. I just loved seeing how everyone was building each other up and cheering each other on even in such a competitive environment.”

Utley set school records in both the 100 and 200 butterfly this season, breaking her own mark in the latter event, while advancing to finals in each at the SEC Championships in February. She won the 100 butterfly twice and the 200 butterfly on three occasions, moving on to the A Final in both events at the Gamecock Invitational in November as well.

In addition, Utley ended the campaign ranked among the top 10 on Vandy’s all-time performer list in the 100 and 200 backstroke along with the 500 freestyle, and she also swam a leg on the program’s record-setting 400 medley relay.

“I’m so happy for and proud of Kailia this season, she’s had an amazing year. It’s been great to see all that hard work and everything we’ve done be rewarded so that she could come here and swim against the best,” head coach Jeremy Organ said. “She has helped set the expectation for the team to continue on this path and rise up to the challenge and have more individuals qualify next season. We’re going to take a couple days to regroup and then get back to work.”

With her performance this weekend, Utley became the first Commodore to advance to the NCAA Division I Championships since Wendy Deacon in 1989.

“This week, I really learned to be in the moment and take a deep breath. The goal of my season was to make it to this meet, so once I arrived I finally let myself just appreciate the opportunity to be here,” Utley said. “I did my best to take the pressure off my races and just swim for fun. I tried to have no expectations, so that I was able to soak up every moment at this meet.

“I think going into my final year of swimming, I will try to bring that mindset into not only every meet but also every practice. Swimming is inherently a stressful sport, but I think appreciating every moment is how we find the joy in it. This meet has made me incredibly excited for next year. I have a whole new set of goals that I’ve started writing out for next year. This meet has really reminded me what it is that I love about swim and how to continue to remind myself of those things each and every day. Additionally, one of my goals is to share what I learned with my teammates so we can all have a fun and exciting season.”