Dec. 21, 2013
By MARK MARTIN
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Long before she became a member of the Marshall University swimming and diving program, Kaley Gregory had strong ties to the school and its rich athletic history.
Her father, John, was one of the Herd's all-time great quarterbacks while her mother, Karen, once cheered for Marshall football and basketball teams.
“They never ever pushed Marshall on me, not once. When I was young I competed (in swimming) up and down the East coast and they would take me to every college there was if I wanted to see it,” said the personable Gregory, who is in her junior season.
As she excelled in competitive swimming -- at Hurricane High School, where she was a two-time state champ, and with various travel teams -- Gregory's choice on where she would do so at the next level became a rather easy one.
“At first I thought Marshall was too close (to home),” she said. “But once I actually went there and visited, I knew it was for me.”
Since stepping into the pool at Marshall, she's accomplished quite a bit for MU coach Bill Tramel, who is in his second season at the helm of the swimming and diving programs.
“I got her as a rising sophomore,” Tramel said.
Tramel's happy he did.
“She's really committed to the sport,” the Herd coach said. “She changed her diet. She does all the little things to get the best performance out of her events.”
Gregory started reading up on nutrition after having her wisdom teeth cut out during the offseason.
“It's not as though I was a bad eater. I just learned a lot more about what fuels the body,” Gregory said.
She added laughing. “I eat a lot.”
In the final meet of the fall portion of the 2013-14 season, Gregory placed second in the 1,650 freestyle at Akron's Zippy Invitational. She equaled her own and Marshall's high for a finish in the event.
It was one of many highlights during the weekend in Akron. Tramel called the Zippy, “the best meet since my arrival at Marshall.”
Gregory came into this season following a strong sophomore season in which she produced her career-best times in the 500 freestyle and 1,650. In the 1,000-yard freestyle, she broke the school record while going on to finish eighth in the 1,650 at the Conference USA Championships. She was 16th in the 500 at the C-USA event.
In her first year of competition at Marshall, she won several races and recorded career best times at the season-ending C-USA Meet.
“She races in the most challenging events,” Tramel said. “She's in the longer events and you can't fake your way through them. She doesn't have the raw speed, but more the endurance type.”
He feels the best is yet to come.
Gregory said it's always been about distance in her life as an athlete, which also included cross country while at Hurricane.
Life in the pool started innocently enough for Gregory as a youngster at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Hurricane.
“I tried other sports, and no one (in her family) knew anything about swimming,” she said.
At first, she just assumed it was time to splash around when she started practice. “I just wanted to play (in the water),” she said laughing.
Soon, she was enjoying it more and more and has kept moving forward in the sport.
“It takes a lot of commitment. I can still remember my parents taking me at 4:30 in the morning for swimming practices,” she said.
Gregory said as a competitive swimmer, it's all about the times.
“We all aim to keep improving our times,” she said.
Her ultimate goal -- like any college athlete -- is to be a part of the NCAA Championships.
Gregory feels confident that can become reality, especially under the watchful eyes of Tramel. “He knows so much. He has taught me so much in the water,” she said enthusiastically.
Being the daughter of a former football star and a cheerleader (her mom is a Logan High grad) has easily made Gregory quite the sports fan. She's had the luxury of watching old game tapes of her father when he was throwing the football around in record fashion with his powerful left arm for the Herd.
“I've gotten to see him play,” she said proudly.
She's certainly a Herd football fan. In fact, she's as excited as anyone about Marshall's bowl venture to Annapolis, Md., to face the Maryland Terrapins.
“I lived in Annapolis for a few years when I was little,” Gregory said. That came at a time when her father was serving as an assistant coach for George Chaump at the Naval Academy. John Gregory, of course, threw his passes at the collegiate level for the Herd under the direction of Chaump.
Gregory and Chaump are in Marshall's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Tramel said Gregory is the type of person who represents the program well.
“She's an accounting major,” he said. “She does great in the classroom. She's a great kid.”
Gregory has twice earned the distinction of being on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll.
It's something she's proud of during her time at Marshall.
Just knowing she's walking on the grounds and entering some of the same buildings her parents once did makes Gregory beam with pride.
“I'm an only child and they have done so much for me in my life,” she said. “They have always been there for me. I want to do anything I can to make them proud.”
Mark Martin is the longtime sports director at WCHS/WVAH TV in Huntington-Charleston, and the football game analyst on the Thundering Herd/IMG Sports Network. This story first appeared in this week’s issue of the Herd Insider.