Idaho Falls High School swimmer Kailee Puetz has had quite the memorable senior year so far.
In November, she was part of 4A state champion 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay teams and also won the 4A girls 200-yard IM ‘A’ final and 100-yard breaststroke ‘A’ final at the first swimming state championships sponsored by the Idaho High School Activities Association. Idaho Falls claimed the 4A girls swimming team state championship 181-160 over Bishop Kelly, the same team that took the 2017 team title by two points over the Tigers.
On Thursday, Puetz furthered her swimming career by signing with the University of New Mexico. So many coaches, teammates and classmates attended her signing in the Idaho Falls High School library, eight pizzas were not enough to feed everyone.
"Maybe we should've ordered 18," Puetz said with a laugh.
Puetz said she began emailing swimming programs in Colorado, Ohio and Florida during the school year with hopes of hearing back. She heard back from mostly Division II schools, and at one point was seriously considering attending TCU. New Mexico was not on that initial list of schools she reached out to until a friend suggested that she look into the Lobos. Puetz did, and she was a bit taken aback by the times their swimmers were producing.
"Their times are so fast," Puetz said. "I thought those times were too fast for me. I wasn't sure when I emailed them, but they replied."
She visited in April and met the coaches and swimmers, coming away impressed and with a feeling of welcome. She said distance was not an issue for her while looking at colleges, and the opportunity to swim for a Division I school in a new place proved to be the perfect fit for her at New Mexico.
"I've always wanted to swim Division I," Puetz said. "I had never been to New Mexico before (visiting campus). I'm so excited to get out of Idaho and have the chance to experience something other than the small town Idaho I've grown up in. I may come back to Idaho Falls one day, but it will be a good experience. It's a really great school."
She said the Lobos coaches saw potential in her, and she will be one of the smallest swimmers on the team.
"None of their swimmers are under six feet and I'm 5-4," she said. "Their motivation is so high. They all want to strive for a common purpose."
While there will be a new workload to get used to as a Division I athlete, Puetz is no stranger to staying organized. Puetz has been swimming competitively since age 8, when she first joined a club program, and has for years kept up the habit of rising early to go to the Wes Deist Aquatic Center to swim before school. She also got involved in student government and track this school year and gets in 14 workouts every week between swimming before school and track practice after school. I.F.'s first college swimming signee since the sport's state championships became sanctioned and sponsored by the IHSAA, Puetz said she has always looked up to older swimmers before her and she hopes she set an example to young swimmers.
"From the first day I walked into this school freshman year, one of my goals was to make a difference in this community for swimming," Puetz said. "I've traveled to Utah, California and Texas for club swimming and the people there are so supportive of swimming. I hope that I set an example that you can work hard in silence and you can dream big."