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The Saratoga Falcon

Math teacher Kelly Frangieh: once dual collegiate athlete at UC Davis

Kelly Frangieh
Frangieh and her UC Davis team at the 1990 water polo National Championships held at Brown University.

Math teacher Kelly Frangieh is known on campus for teaching Algebra 2 honors and Pre-calculus. Hidden behind her academic career, however, is the journey of an active athlete from childhood through college at UC Davis.

She began athletics by swimming and playing soccer starting at age 5. Eventually, she realized she had a stronger passion for water sports and focused on swimming when she reached high school.

As part of the Los Gatos High Class of 1988, she was a 4-year varsity swimmer and a member of the Los Gatos Rowing Club. She also played on the West Valley Water Polo club for a couple of years before heading to college at UC Davis.

The swimming coach for the D1 program offered her a spot on the roster, but the team came out to be too competitive. Subsequently, Frangieh turned to the girls’ water polo team, which was yet to be NCAA-approved at the time and was officially considered a club.

“Girls’ water polo was a club, but it was intense and taken seriously,” Frangieh said. “We had practice every day and we traveled throughout the country to compete at nationals. The only thing [that was missing] was the NCAA approval, which no schools had at the time for the sport.”

Practices were held on weekday afternoons, consisting of lifting weights for an hour followed by two hours in the water. Throughout Frangieh’s 4-year career, UC Davis qualified for nationals every year, solidifying themselves as a top eight program in the nation. UC Davis placed third in her freshman year and second in each of the next three years. She recalls the greatest and toughest matches to be against UC San Diego and Brown University.

Despite water polo being a spring sport, training occurred year-round, but off-season practices were not held as frequently. Hence, Frangieh also joined UC Davis’s ski club during winters. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when she didn’t have classes, she often traveled with the team to the Tahoe area to practice.

“We had a cabin up north and we got to stay at different resorts, which always made the competitions fun,” Frangieh said.

Additionally, the top seven skiers in the club qualified for a free season pass at Sugar Bowl, their practice ski range, serving as a big incentive for Frangieh, who always made the top seven.

Throughout her athletic journey, Frangieh recalls Jamie Wright — her water polo coach at UC Davis — to be her biggest influence. Wright retired from Davis in 2022 and now coaches water polo at Davis High. Frangieh said his inspiring passion for the sport always rubbed off on the team, keeping everybody’s energies up. She also formed lasting friendships with her teammates, who always provided her with a great source of motivation.

“Being part of a team was an impactful experience,” Frangieh said. “You wouldn’t want to let your teammates down, so you have to keep up the hard work and do whatever it takes to win.”

After graduation, Frangieh started on the path she always aspired to: being an educator. Her mother was a K-5 teacher for children in special education, and Frangieh always used to help out in her classroom. Additionally, at Los Gatos, her favorite teacher, Butch Cattolico, who taught trigonometry for 38 years and was the head coach of the football team for 28 years. The influence from the mentors in her life paved Frangieh’s path to becoming a teacher. 

“I briefly considered going into business, hence my economics major,” Frangieh said. “But when I was done with college, I knew what I really wanted was to teach. I wanted to be like Cattolico.”

Her first job was at Lynbrook High School as a math teacher and girls’ water polo coach, which lasted for seven years. After switching to teach math at the school, she continued coaching for a couple of years until her daughters became a priority.

Today, Frangieh no longer plays the intense sports of her childhood, but she stays active through hiking, snowboarding and wakeboarding with her family. Her husband Bill Frangieh is an athlete as well, having played football at South San Francisco High and later at Eastern Illinois University on a scholarship. He was in training camp with the 49ers for a month before an ACL injury ended his professional career. Afterwards, he was an assistant football coach at Saratoga High in the early 2000s. 

Their two daughters, Karly and Zoe Frangieh, are following in their athletic paths. Zoe is a sophomore playing on Arizona State University’s D1 water polo team, and Karly, a senior who stars in water polo and swimming at Los Gatos High, will be joining her sister on the team next year, having verbally committed to the Sun Devils earlier in the year.

“I find it super exciting,” Frangieh said. “My daughters are similar to me in loving the team aspect of water polo; I’m glad I got them into swimming early.”

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