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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.