Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Matthew Grillo of Penn State University

One school that has been extremely strong in the sprints and in relays for a number of years now is Penn State University, and they have enjoyed a great deal of success on the conference and national level thanks to their ability to go big at the end of the season. Our next senior is Matthew Grillo out of Montreal, Quebec, and with conference meets around the country getting faster at a seemingly unchecked rate, the Nittany Lions will count on him to lead the team’s sprinting contingent next week.

Competing for the Pointe-Claire Swim Club, Grillo realized a great deal of success on the provincial level. He would break 10 Quebec Provincial records during his club swimming career, and he still holds the 50 fly record from 2009 (25.09). As of 2016, he also holds team records in the 15-17 age group for the 50 back (25.91 SCM/27.23 LCM), 100 back (56.06 SCM/58.95 LCM), 50 Free (23.55 LCM), and the 100 Free (51.52), while also holding multiple records in younger age groups.

Grillo would also compete for the Canadian Junior National Team in 2010, representing his nation at the 2010 Junior Pan Pacific Championships. Individually, he would secure finishes of 7th in the 50 free (23.64), 6th in the 100 free (51.57), 18th in the 200 free (1:54.60), and 22nd in the 100 fly (59.06). He would also provide legs on Canada’s 400 free relay (3:25.62, 2nd), 400 medley relay (3:48.49, 4th), and 800 free relay (7:30.59, 4th).

After joining the Nittany Lions for the 2012-13 season, Grillo would save his best swims for the end of the season, recording finishes of 29th in the 50 free (20.51), 22nd in the 100 free (44.96), and 54th in the 200 free (1:40.78). Notably, his 100 free time would be the fifth-fastest time on the team for the season.

Returning as a sophomore, Grillo would substitute the 100 fly for the 200 free, and would find himself swimming to a trio of best times once again at the Conference Championships. He would leave the meet with finishes of 26th in the 50 free (20.41), 31st in the 100 fly (49.16), and 19th in the 100 free (44.87, 44.70 in prelims). It is worthwhile to mention that all three of his finishes put him in the top four for the Nittany Lions in each event.

At last year’s Big Ten Championships, Grillo continued to be a beacon of consistent improvement, and he recorded individual finishes of 20th in the 50 free (20.23, 20.17 in prelims), 25th in the 100 free (44.55), and 39th in the 100 fly (49.58). Additionally, he would play an expanded role for the Nittany Lions this time around at Big Tens with legs on the 200 free relay (1:18.36, 4th), and 400 free relay (2:53.19, 5th).

Perhaps what is most exciting about Grillo’s progression during his NCAA career is that he has positioned himself perfectly to have his best Championship Season yet in 2016. At the Georgia Invitational last December, Matthew posted times of 20.28 in the 50 free, 44.82 in the 100 free, and 50.51 in the 100 fly. Both of his freestyle times were top amongst all Nittany Lion swimmers at the meet, and he rattled both of his personal bests in those events while in Athens.

With star sprinter Shane Ryan spending a year away from PSU while attempting to qualify for the Rio Olympics for Ireland, Matthew Grillo will be one of the most critical members of Penn State’s Championship roster come next Wednesday. As the Nittany Lions have had an outstanding track record when it comes to delivering in February and March for several years in a row now, it should not take anyone by surprise if this senior finds himself in multiple scoring heats during the night sessions. Look for Grillo to be at the forefront of Penn State’s Big Ten charge next week.

Best Times (SCY/LCM):
50 Free: 20.19/23.51
100 Free: 44.55/51.44
200 Free: 1:40.78/1:54.51
100 fly: 49.16/56.89

School Major/Degree:  Double major in Print Journalism and English
Favorite Event:  
100 free
Favorite Hobby:  
Chilling with my roommates
Favorite Movie:  
Fourteen Days in May (Documentary)
Person You’d Like to Meet Growing Up:  
Donovan Bailey (1996 Olympic gold medalist in 100 meter dash)
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal: 
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?

I started swimming lessons at three years old and competing year-round when I was eight. I started swimming because my two older siblings were swimming and knowing how to swim is an essential skill that everyone should know.

What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why? 

Competing on the relays at the Big Ten Championships. The intensity and excitement of the moment can you make you do special things. It’s an honor to be on a relay at Big Tens and there’s no greater feeling than going out there and representing your team. Also knowing that you got three other guys with you and an entire team backing you up makes you want to swim even faster for them. 

In previous iterations of this series, we have always brought up the fact that Penn State have been remarkably good at putting together extremely strong performances both individually and on relays during Championship season in recent years. Do you feel like there is something special about the training atmosphere in State College that allows your team to thrive every year at the end of the season?

Our coach Tim Murphy always preaches to us that when we’re racing in practice that we should imagine ourselves competing at Big Tens so that when we get to the meet it becomes second nature. When we’re training, our team is really focused and since our main focus is the end of the season I think that we truly prepare ourselves the right way all season in order to perform at the end of the season.

You’ve had the opportunity to train alongside Shane Ryan for a number of years now, and though he is missing the 2015-16 season in order to train in Ireland, you have surely gained some valuable experience swimming in the sprint group with him. Can you shed some light on what impact having a teammate like Ryan has had in your development as a sprinter for the Nittany Lions?

Shane really helped push me during train the last three years. Seeing him swim some extremely fast times in practice has motivated me throughout the years and I have kept those times in my mind this last year to gauge where I’m at. Also, seeing him compete against and beat some of the best swimmers in the country has helped myself and our team realize that we can as well.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?

Competing in college swimming has been a crucial part to my swimming career. That was made possible by a lot of people, but without my parents who truly pushed me to come to the U.S. for school, I wouldn’t be here.

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

I will be graduating in May and I will hopefully be working as a reporter for a news organization.

What should we look forward to from Penn State as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

A team that’s ready to fight and compete against any team regardless of who they are.

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About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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