Pekin junior Kelen McDaniels has been one of the area's top freestyle swimmers all three seasons with the Dragons. She has qualified for the state tournament the past two years in both the 50 free and the 100 free, with a high finish of 13th last year in the 50 free. She set the Pekin record in the 50 free this season with a time of :24.08. She was the 100 free sectional champion as a freshman and the 50 free sectional winner last season. Her older sister, Morgan, swam four years in high school, and her younger sister, Rhenna, 11, has been a club swimmer since she was 6.

Journal Star reporter Johnny Campos had five questions for McDaniels:

1 At the state meet last year, you finished 13th in the 50 free, barely missing the B finals. How frustrating was that, and did it give you more incentive going into this season?

"Well I was frustrated, but I kept my hope. Not that I didn't want someone to not show up to the 50 free that night, but if it was going to give me a chance to swim in the finals, then yes. It gave me a lot of motivation to swim even harder this season since I was so close last year. Being 13th made me see that I actually had a really good chance at making it back." 

2 Also at the state meet, you were disqualified in the prelims of the 100 free. What happened, and did that make you more determined to qualify for state again in that event?

"I was disqualified on my start in the 100 free because I moved on the blocks. Personally I do not think I did, and, I swear, I watched the video of me starting that 100 free about a million times. It made me want to come back next year and show everyone what I really can do in the 100 free."

3 What have been the biggest challenges having a new coach, Erin Cealey, this season?

"Having a new coach this year was hard, because I never really knew her before this season. In my past, I have always known my swim coaches for a long period of time. So, yes, not knowing her was hard."

4 Your first name has been mispronounced a few times at meets over the years, which is how you ended up with nicknames such as Kel-bel, Kelso and Keellen. How much has that bothered you? And what is the correct pronunciation? Is it just Helen with a K?

"I always took it as a joke and whenever I heard it being said wrong, it was always a good laugh. But I got my nicknames mostly from my friends since Kelen is pretty easy to make in to one. And, yes, the correct pronunciation is Helen with a K. My mother got the name Kelen from my great grandmother. Her name being Helen, and she just put a K on it."

5 Coming from a swimming family, are you a big fan of the sport? Who is your favorite big-name swimmer?

"YES, I am a great fan of the sport. I went to the Olympic trails this past year (to watch of course), and it was an experience to remember. I went on a summer vacation during this past Olympics, and we always made sure we had time in our day to watch it. I would have to say my favorite big-time swimmer is Natalie Coughlin. At the Olympic trials, I bought a shirt with her last name on. I don't know if it's the fact that she is super pretty and good at swimming or what, but I have always been a fan of hers."