Sophomore Anika Ellingson swims the breast­stroke at a meet this season. (Photo: Anika Ellingson / Courtesy)

Nine-year-old Anika Ellingson didn’t quite realize what she was diving into when she first started swimming during her childhood summers. Now a college sophomore, Ellingson swam her way to NCAA Division II National Cham­pi­onships for the first time. 

During the GLIAC cham­pi­onships in early Feb­ruary, Ellingson swam two qual­i­fying times: one in the 100-yard breast­stroke and another in the 200-yard breast­stroke. To qualify for nationals, a swimmer must land in the top 27 times in the nation for a spe­cific event.  

Ellingson placed fourth in the con­ference in the 100-yard breast­stroke, swimming a time of 1:02:87, which beat her own school record. She also qual­ified for nationals in the 200-yard breas­troke by one one hun­dredth of a second. 

This is a dif­ferent story from last year, when Ellingson missed the mark by .02 seconds, placing her one spot shy of qual­i­fying. 

Head coach Kurt Kirner said he is proud of Ellingson and all the work she has accom­plished. He is working with her on preparing for this major event. Kirner said Ellingson has increased her yardage in training to about half of a normal workload. He said they also spend a lot of time specif­i­cally training for her main event, the 100-yard breast­stroke. This involves high-speed swimming and race-pacing activ­ities, but she is still given ade­quate active recovery between. 

“She has cer­tainly worked very hard and matured as a swimmer, allowing herself this fab­ulous oppor­tunity,” Kirner said.     

Ellingson dis­covered her victory while sur­rounded by her team at the pool. Fellow teammate junior Theresa Smith tackled Ellingson in a cel­e­bratory hug on the deck.

“I lit­erally screamed and ran around the pool deck. I was jumping up and down. My coach ran down saying, ‘You’re in! You’re in!’ and I swear to God, I teared up and started crying,” Ellingson said. “It was just one of the greatest moments I’ve ever expe­ri­enced.”   

Nationals will be hosted by the Uni­versity of Alabama at the Crossplex in Birm­ingham, Alabama, on March 7 through 11.