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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.