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Villanova’s Kelly Montesi remains ‘incredibly modest’ despite her record-breaking performance in the 200 backstroke

"She’s going to go down as one of the best athletes in the history of our program,” said coach Rick Simpson.

Villanova senior Kelly Montesi recently broke the school record in the 200 backstroke.
Villanova senior Kelly Montesi recently broke the school record in the 200 backstroke.Read moreCourtesy of Villanova Athleti

When Kelly Montesi was a freshman on Villanova’s swimming and diving team, she spent practice watching senior Darby Goodwin. She was Montesi’s role model — the type of athlete the young swimmer aspired to be one day.

The upperclassmen, in general, were a very influential group. They showed the younger swimmers how to carry themselves and compete unselfishly. For the tight-knit team, this leadership was valued, and the advice was taken seriously.

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Goodwin was a well-rounded swimmer, who held the program record in the 200 backstroke after finishing in 1 minute, 55:02 seconds at the 2017 Big East Championships. On Nov. 20 at the West Virginia University Invitational, Goodwin’s protégé, Montesi, broke that record, finishing in 1:54.95.

“I just remember being at meets and stuff and thinking if I was just doing what [Goodwin] was doing, routine-wise in warming up, then I was doing the right thing,” Montesi said.

Montesi does a lot of the right things as a senior who has emerged as a star swimmer. Coming into Villanova specializing in the butterfly, Montesi has added the backstroke and individual medley to her repertoire.

“She’s excellent at everything,” said head coach Rick Simpson. “I mean, there is not a single event where she is not, I would say, national caliber. She’s very good at so many different things.”

Montesi claims that the breaststroke is not her thing, but it is clear that she is a standout swimmer across a handful of different events. She swam a 1:58.6 in the 200 butterfly and a 2:00.24 in the 200 IM, both personal bests, at the 2019 Big East Championships.

Setting a program record in the 200 backstroke was not something Montesi foresaw happening. In fact, it’s an event that she does not give much thought to, because it was never considered to be one of her strongest. Because of this, Montesi was able to take a relaxed approach and surprise herself by swimming such an incredible time.

“I get in my head a little bit with certain events that I’m typically good at, and that wasn’t one of them.” Montesi said. “So I was just having fun, just got up on the blocks, and suddenly I was going way faster than I thought I was going to go.”

Senior Grace Wielar was less shocked by Montesi’s performance, after watching her swim her best time in that event by a full second in the morning. Wielar was excited, thinking maybe that meant Montesi would have another great race that night. When the race came, Wielar saw Montesi’s split on the third 50 and knew something big was about to happen. Montesi ended up dropping another two seconds off her time from the morning and reset the program record.

“That’s just unheard of in a race as short as the 200,” Wielar said. “When you’re this age, dropping two seconds in an event like that is crazy. So it was super exciting, and everyone was kind of in shock because she had dropped three seconds from her best time in one day.”

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Montesi is a competitor. “I don’t like to lose,” she said. However, she is also a humble and caring teammate. She is not planning on using her extra year of eligibility post-grad, as while she loves swimming, she says she came to Villanova to get a degree and pursue a career as a nurse.

It seems that for Montesi, who learned from Goodwin to “carry the team on your back,” this combination of competition and care makes her the great athlete that she is. According to Simpson, Montesi is successful because of her well-rounded nature.

“[Montesi’s] got this whole other personality,” Simpson said. “She’s incredibly modest, probably the most low-key if you were to look at all of our athletes. “You’d probably think she wasn’t, you know, one of the top-tier athletes when she’s going to go down as one of the best athletes in the history of our program.”