Sports teams can be like families and for Erin Kiely, Penn swimming got even more familial when her sister Katie joined the team in the fall.
Senior Erin is in her last year as a swimmer for Penn, but she is now passing the baton to her freshman sister Katie Kiely. The two New Jersey natives also have an older sister, Meghan, who swam at Rutgers and graduated in 2017.
Growing up, the Kielys had a pool in their backyard, so recreational swimming was a part of their childhood. Mandy Kiely, the girls’ mother, recounted how her daughters got into the sport.
“My niece, who was just a little bit older than my oldest, was like, ‘you know what Meghan, you’re a good swimmer. You should try out for the swim team,'” Mrs. Kiely said. "Then the next thing you know, she shows up in a bikini and goggles and tries out for our local swim team, and she made it.
“Erin and Katie followed suit when they were, at that point, seven years old, where it became like a formal thing. It’s been in their blood forever. The younger ones always learn from the older ones. Katie would fake swim at like [age] two because she watched her sisters. That’s how it all happened.”
The Kiely sisters all swam for the Lakeland Hills YMCA for 10 years and for Mountain Lakes High School for their final four years. Erin was a scholastic All-American as a junior and a captain as a senior. Katie inherited the captaincy three years later when she became a senior.
“Erin and Katie swam for a year together in high school, so that was really cute because they would be on relays together. Erin was a senior and Katie was a freshman, just like now in college," Mrs. Kiely said. "They used to call the high school relays a Kiely sandwich. Whether it was Meghan and Erin or Erin and Katie, one of them would lead off the relay and one would anchor the relay, and then they’d just plug in who is going in between with some other teammates.”
Both in high school and now in college, there was potential for the Kiely sisters to get competitive in the pool. However, since each girl swims a different event, there's more support than competition. Erin is a freestyler while Katie swims the backstroke.
“We're not so competitive because we all do different events, so we can’t really compare,” Katie said.
Erin attributes the beginning of her swimming career to her older sister Meghan. Further down the road, it was also Meghan who influenced Erin to continue her career at the collegiate level.
“Once Meghan started swimming … [Katie and I] both followed along,” Erin said. “We had a great team there and we loved it, so Meghan definitely kickstarted a little family thing. Swimming in college — once Meghan did it — it just seemed like the next thing to do and something that I always wanted to do.”
When Katie started to think about colleges, the torch was poised to be passed again.
“I was nervous when I decided to come here because I was like, people are going to think that I came here because of my sister, but that’s totally not what it was,” Katie said. “I wanted to make new friendships, but this has totally made everything so much more fun. We have a cool bond. It’s been pretty nice to be able to form a relationship with the upperclassmen because of her. I felt like I was a part of the team right away.”
Even though Katie may have not made the decision primarily based on her sister, Erin's enthusiasm wasn't dampened in the least when the family received news of Katie’s selection.
“The day that Katie got into Penn — I don’t think I’ve ever seen Erin happier,” Mrs. Kiely said.
After Erin graduates in the spring, Katie will still have three years of Penn to herself. In the meantime, the Kiely family ties on the swim team will continue.