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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.

  • 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.