(Photo: Brad Heeres / Courtesy)

When sophomore Bailey Bick­er­staff asked her fellow swimmers to bow their heads Wednesday, she ushered her team­mates into a moment of calm reflection just before the Chargers began to compete at the G-MAC-Mount East Swimming & Diving Cham­pi­onships for the first time ever.

Bick­er­staff ended her prayer and the Chargers jumped into a four-day meet at the C.T. Branin Nata­torium in Canton, Ohio, where they fought hard for a 1,323-point, second-place finish.

“The meet was charged. Our team was excited — we were ready to go,” Bick­er­staff said. “It was also very purpose-driven meet.”

Bick­er­staff said head coach Kurt Kirner and assistant coach Zoe Hopkins had pre­pared their swimmers to greet pre-swim nerves with mind­fulness, a com­posure cul­ti­vated for the team as she prayed over them before the meet. This poise carried the swimmers through the meet as the Chargers faced nine other teams, dom­i­nating all but the Uni­versity of Findlay, which won first place with 1,973 points. Malone Uni­versity fin­ished well behind Hillsdale in third place with 953.5 points.

“The meet was more com­pet­itive than I had antic­i­pated, as the G-MAC has some quality ath­letes,” Kirner said. “Mountain East pro­vided some awesome com­pe­tition, espe­cially Fairmont State Uni­versity and West Vir­ginia Wes­leyan College.”

Junior Anika Ellingson started the meet out strong on Wednesday with a lifetime best in the 200 IM for fourth place at 2:08.91. Heeres touched the wall soon after, earning a sixth-place spot on the podium with a season-best 2:10.92. Sophomore Lizzie Leathers placed eigh­teenth at 2:23.77, a lifetime best time for her.

Later that evening, Ellingson, sophomore Allie Matti, sophomore Catherine Voisin, and freshman Emma Rao took a second-place finish in the 200 medley relay.

Thursday, three Chargers shone in the 400 IM. Freshman Hannah Wilkens carved her way to fifth place in 4:44.37. Ellingson snagged seventh place with a lifetime-best time of 4:46.5. Senior Theresa Smith powered into four­teenth place in 4:57.86, a season best.

The 100 but­terfly brought Hillsdale glory seven times over. Voisin took fifth in 58.30. Bick­er­staff, junior Tiffany Farris, and senior Peyton Bowen boxed out ninth, 10th, and 11th places in 59.20, 1:00.21, and 1:00.42, respec­tively. Bick­er­staff and Farris’ times were lifetime bests, while Bowen’s was season-best. Leathers came in four­teenth at 1:02.52, Rao in twenty-first at 1:04.62, and sophomore Taylor Steyer at 1:04.91.

Heeres won bronze in the 200 freestyle with a lifetime-best time of 1:54.09, edging within a second of the school record.

“Coach and I were on the line about whether I was going to swim the 200 freestyle on the second day of the meet. I hate the 200 free because I’ve never known how to swim it, but I had done it at almost every meet this year and I felt good about it,” Heeres said. “I was pretty close to the school record on that one too, which was totally sur­prising. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Hillsdale relayers repeated their second-place finish when Matti, Ellingson, Voisin, and Heeres swam the 400 medley relay in 3:54.99.

Ellingson swiped the silver medal in the 100 breast­stroke on Friday with a 1:02.97, a time which will most likely qualify her to proceed to the national com­pe­tition in March.

“That race sets me up in a really good spot for nationals,” Ellingson said. “I was dis­ap­pointed that I didn’t win, but I knew it was going to be tough com­pe­tition.”

Sophomore Vic­toria Addis, Rao, and Smith fol­lowed Ellingson into seventh, 19th, and 21st places in the 100 breast­stroke with respective times of 1:08.38, 1:13.42, and 1:16.06. Rao earned a lifetime-best time while Smith swam a season-best.

Heeres scored another third-place when she swam the 100 back­stroke in 58.40. Matti took the podium with a seventh-place, 1:00.13 swim. Bick­er­staff was just behind in eleventh with 1:01.99, fol­lowed by freshman Mary Vita in 14th with a season-best 1:02.67. Rao and Smith took 19th and 21st place, Rao with a season-best 1:13.42 and Smith with a season-best 1:16.06.

Before Heeres, Wilkens, junior Grace Houghton, and sophomore Danielle LeBleu fin­ished Friday with a 7:49.56, third-place victory in the 800 freestyle relay, the Chargers flooded the winner’s podium on the 200 but­terfly. Houghton won second place with a season-best time of 2:08.09. Voisin came next in fourth, just five seconds after Houghton at 2:13.03. Bowen was fifth with a season-best 2:14.31. Leathers fol­lowed with a lifetime-best time at 2:16.64 with Bick­er­staff touching the wall just after at 2:16.87.

“That race was a really good expe­rience for me because I thought less about myself during the swim and more about going out and swimming for the team. It was a really good expe­rience of cama­raderie,” Houghton said. “It was fun to see blue every­where.”

On Sat­urday, Heeres broke the school record for the 200 back­stroke, swimming a lifetime-best at 2:04.74 for the silver medal. Matti took sixth at 2:09.47. Both Bick­er­staff and Farris pulled lifetime-best times in their respective finals, with times of 2:13.07 and 2:12.83, respec­tively. Smith closed her college swimming career in twen­tieth place with a season-best of 2:21.15.

Ellingson earned another chance at nationals when she out-touched the com­pe­tition for third place in the 200 breast­stroke for a season-best 2:19.64.

“Both Anika Ellingson and Katherine Heeres are driven swimmers both in practice and at meets. They have a mindset that allows them to focus on what it takes to be at their very best. Many com­petitors still come up and say ‘I’m nervous’ or ‘I’m not feeling quite right,’” Kirner said. “You will never hear that from either Anika or Katherine. They trust their abil­ities and training.”

Addis, Bowen, and Voisin fol­lowed Ellingson into ninth, 15th, and 18th. Addis achieved a lifetime-best time at 2:30.12 while Bowen and Voisin had season-bests at 2:35.94 and 2:41.04.

Houghton raced into second place for the mile swim at 18:05.83 with sophomore Lizzie Leathers fol­lowing up in 14th place at 19:54.86 and Smith in 19th at 20:21.61.

“I have a dif­ferent way of training for dis­tance. I don’t train mechan­i­cally. I know when I’m getting tired and I need to increase my effort to com­pensate,” Houghton said. “I don’t know what pace I’m going like other swimmers do, but I know what I need to feel in my body to sustain myself. It’s in the core.”

Kirner said that Houghton was better pre­pared for the com­pe­tition the G-MAC-ME con­ference offered her, as opposed to what she swam against at the GLIAC cham­pi­onships.

“Houghton’s time of 18:05 in the mile places her at sixth on our all-time list,” Kirner said. “She isn’t done yet. I believe she can cut more time moving into her senior year.”


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Stevan Bennett Jr. is a senior from the pumpkin capital of the world, Morton, Illinois. He is studying economics and journalism, and plans on attending law school after Hillsdale. He has written for the Collegian since 2014 and is the sports editor. His addictions include coffee, the Chicago Cubs, NHL 2015, and miscellaneous adventuring. email: | twitter: @StevanBennett
  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    2nd place is an excellent finish for Hillsdale’s first GMAC Cham­pi­onship. Well done, Ladies! When are we going to have a Men’s Swimming program????