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Sophomore Anika Ellingson poses for a photo at the NCAA Division II National Championships Winter Festival. Ellingson was the sole Charger to compete in the meet. (Photo: Anika Ellingson / Courtesy)

Hillsdale swimmer sophomore Anika Ellingson faced more than 1,000 student athletes at the NCAA Division II National Championships Winter Festival from March 7-11. Some of the best Division-II athletes from across the country in men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s wrestling competed in Birmingham, Alabama.   

At nationals, Ellingson faced what she called an at times “overwhelming situation.” Ellingson placed 22nd in the 100-yard breaststroke and 30th in the 200-yard breaststroke. 

Head coach Kurt Kirner said Ellingson performed very well at nationals, adding that it’s difficult to get best times only a couple weeks after a strong performance at GLIACs.  

Over ten meet records were broken in several competitions, and several athletes set new NCAA Division II time standards. 

Kirner said each accomplishment is just scratching the surface of what Ellingson is capable of.  Though he had hoped Ellingson would place, he said it was very promising that Ellingson came close to placing in both of her events. 

“The important thing is that she got a taste of competing at that level, and she knows she belongs there,” Kirner said.  

Ellingson also said she encountered people who, like herself, had never been to nationals before. She said they were looking around with nervous wonder, taking in every aspect of the new experience. 

Ellingson said meeting the variety of people from all over the world was exciting. She said the athletes were personable, and she met swimmers from Germany and Norway. Ellingson enjoyed bonding with many new people over athlete breakfasts.  

“Although the atmosphere was really intense, the atmosphere only became intense during the races. There wasn’t any animosity between any of the teams or athletes,” Ellingson said. 

Ellingson admitted to being slightly disappointed that she did not swim best times or make finals, but, at the same time, she said she knows it was her first year at nationals.    

“Overall, I am happy because I had my fastest morning swims there,” Ellingson said. “This shows that I am still improving. My races felt good — the pool felt fast.” 

Kirner acknowledged that competing in nationals first takes skill, and he knows Ellingson worked extensively over the last two seasons to refine her stroke, start, turns, underwater pullouts, and finishes.  

“Her determination and focus really got her there. Now, it is up to harnessing that nervous energy she feels behind the blocks to place at NCAAs,” Kirner said.  

 Kirner said that he hopes Hillsdale will take a relay or more Chargers to nationals next year, along with Ellingson.

Looking forward, Ellingson said she hopes to return to nationals next year to place even higher. 

“Now that I know what to work on in the middle of the season, taper, and for coming off of conference, I know what I have to do,” she said.