Michaela Mattes spends more time thinking about her silver medal than her gold medal.
Mattes, a freshman swimmer at Cardinal Mooney, received both at this year's Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A state championship meet, the gold in the 500-yard freestyle (4:46.59) and the silver in the 200-yard individual medley (2:02.74). Climbing that mountaintop as a freshman is a monumental achievement, but it's the silver that keeps bothering her like a kernel of corn stuck in her teeth, even though that time was her personal best.
"My goal was to win both," Mattes said. "I had been working on my IM, especially the breaststroke, leading up to the race, but (Bradenton Christian senior Anna) Freed held her own and won. I just used those frustrations to help me dominate the 500 free."
Dominate she did, winning the race by nearly two seconds. Yet Mattes still focuses on the 200 IM. It will help her next high school season, she said, giving her something to work toward. If her mindset sounds less like a teenager swimming for fun and more like an aspiring national star, that's because she is. At the Florida Age Group Championships in July, Mattes made the 2020 Olympic Trials cut in the 400 free (4:14.49) and the 400 IM (4:50.38).
Mattes started swimming, in part, because of Missy Franklin. The U.S. gold medalist was a lightning rod for Mattes.
“I saw myself in her,” Mattes said. “She was energetic and had the same love of water that I did. She felt at home in the water. When I started doing this, I would watch her and think, ‘It would not be easy to get to that level, but it would be amazing. How good would that feel?’”
Making Trials cuts is the big step in that process, though the process is far from done. Mattes said it will be harder to go from Trials to the Olympic team than it was to get to this point. Everyone she’s going against now is an elite swimmer, she said. The margins of victory get slimmer. As Mattes said, she is not 12 years old anymore, cutting 30 seconds off every time she swims. Any time off is a victory now.
There are limited slots and everyone wants them.
“I have to show that I have what it takes,” Mattes said. “And I know I do.”
Mattes swims for the Sarasota Sharks outside of high school season. Sharks coach Brent Arckey said Mattes is an intense competitor when the lights are bright. Her willingness to improve is what separates her from most swimmers. As far as her ceiling in the sport, Arckey said he hasn’t found it yet. She might not have one.
The next meet with Trials implications is the Toyota U.S. Open, held Dec. 4-7 in Atlanta. This meet was previously called the Winter National Championships. Mattes will be swimming multiple events at the meet, and she hopes to make as many Trials cuts as she can.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.