Junior Grace Houghton competes in a meet earlier this season. (Photo: Zoe Hopkins | Courtesy)

A swimmer never wants to see bubbles float across her lane — that means a competitor is ahead. But bubbles were all the swim team could focus on as they labored toward third place of 14 at the three-day Phoenix Fall Classic held at the University of Chicago Nov. 17-19.

“Our coach had this little game,” junior Anika Ellingson said. “We tried to get bubbles. If you beat a certain time that he had written down for for you on the board, you got a bubble.”

The strategy worked. The chargers racked up nine season best times and four lifetime best times. Without the bubbles, and the wild energy the team encouraged each other with, the wins may not have been as abundant.

“Every time one of our girls was in the pool, our seats on deck were empty and the end of the lane was full,” junior Grace Houghton said. “Knowing that we’ve all worked hard side by side and endured all the same practices and school assignments and stress means that performing represents so much for all of us. We can be proud of each other and really know why because we’ve been through the same thing.”

Ellingson was named the G-MAC Women’s Swimming Athlete of the Week after her performance in Chicago. She dominated the 100 breaststroke with a first-place, season-best time of 1:03.25. As Ellingson waited in her full-body suit to dive in for the final round, she said she knew that her trial times slotted her for second place.

“I wanted to try and win the 100 breast for the third year in a row. I didn’t want to let my girl beat me,” Ellingson said. “I saw that I was ahead of her on the last turn, and I said, ‘okay I’m not going to let her catch me on this last lap.’”

Ellingson went on to place second in the 200 breaststroke at 2:23.55 after shaving almost three seconds off her time in the preliminaries. She then broke her own record, pulling a lifetime best time of 2:12.20 in the 200 IM, finishing ninth. Ellingson said her performance at the Phoenix Fall Classic will set her up well for the Calvin invite this weekend and the G-MAC Championships in February.

“Humans aren’t built to move well in the water.  Not to get too sciency but Anika has mastered the ability to move more fish-like,” Kirner said. “Her body movements are more undulating than many of her competitors.”

The medley races benefitted from Ellingson’s strength. She, freshman Katherine Heeres, sophomore Catherine Voisin, and junior Suzanne DeTar worked together for a strong second place and shattered Linda Okonkowski’s 2009 school record by a second and a half with a time of 3:52.84. The same women took on the 200 medley and came in third place with a time of 1:48.23.

Other teams of relay racers conquered their events as well. Heeres, Wilkens, LeBleu, and DeTar took fourth in the 400 freestyle in just 3:39.19. Freshman Hannah Wilkens, Heeres, Houghton, and sophomore Danielle LeBleu finished fourth in the 800 freestyle at 7:58.27.

The Chargers performed especially well in the butterfly events. In the 200 fly, Wilkens finished seventh at 2:12.19, Houghton ninth with a season-best 2:08.18, Voisin tenth at 2:15.04, and senior Peyton Bowen fifteenth at 2:16.46.

“Coach told me to take a risk with this event because I had qualified for finals,” Houghton said. “It’s my best event and I have a really good feel for the race, so I went out strong and that kickstarted my energy for the rest of race. Seeing my whole team leaning over the edge of the pool and hearing them yell me on was a fantastic feeling of support and encouragement.”

The 100 fly saw another four Hillsdale swimmers. Voisin took ninth with a season best time of 57.89, Houghton eleventh at 1:00.23, sophomore Allie Matti twelfth at 1:00.27, and junior Tiffany Farris fourteenth at 1:00.39.

The Chargers finished strong in the backstroke and freestyle events. Heeres took a season-best fourth place in the 200 backstroke at 2:08.21 while Matti pulled a lifetime-best ninth place at 2:09.32. Freshman Emma Rao had a season best in the 50 freestyle after taking 11th place at 24.98. Mary Vita swam in for 15th place in the 200 freestyle at 2:00.45, a lifetime best time. Voisin also had a lifetime best in the 500 freestyle at 5:29.15, earning her 16th place.

“The team came together as a strong supportive and collaborative group,” Kirner said of his team’s energetic performance.

Houghton said she thinks the team’s energy and zeal in supporting each other was bolstered by the multi-day style of the meet: “Chicago was a multi-day commitment versus an afternoon dual meet, and that helped us mentally switch gears from school to meet mode,” Houghton said. “We could be all there with each other, just swimming.”

The team will next compete at Calvin College Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.

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Katherine Scheu
Junior Katie J. Read is the assistant editor for the Culture page of The Hillsdale Collegian. When she's not working in the newsroom or reporting on a story, she's reading either French literature or backlogged feature stories on the Pulitzer prize website. After graduation, she hopes to write feature stories for a large daily paper and invest in a KitchenAid mixer and a puppy.
  • AlexanderYpsilantis

    Hillsdale College needs a men’s swimming program as well as the women’s-and both should feature Diving. You could add a women’s Soccer or Lacrosse program to offset it, both are common programs in the GMAC.