When junior Anika Ellingson tucks earbuds under her swim cap and cranks up the volume on “Famous Last Words” by My Chemical Romance, her whole body goes into race mode. Ellingson breathes deeply as the punk-rock band blares in her ears. She mentally reviews her swim, thinking through her start, her pacing, her turns. Then she’s ready to do battle in the pool.
It’s a routine Ellingson has methodically worked through at every swim meet the Chargers have competed at this season. She’s never abandoned the mental exercise, even when she traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, where she broke her own school record in the 200 breaststroke at the NCAA Division II swimming and diving championships last weekend.
Ellingson, the only Hillsdale swimmer to proceed to the championships, swam both the 100 breaststroke and the 200 breaststroke. Her record-breaking time of 2:18.44 earned her 20th place in the 200, catapulting her 12 places beyond her finish last year.
“I just wanted to break 2:19.00. I ripped into that race like I never have before,” Ellingson said. “I broke my school record by about a second.”
As Ellingson emerged from the water and saw her time on the scoreboard, her fist shot up into the air. She said she was not as pleased, however, with the results of her 100 breaststroke. Ellingson finished the preliminary trial Friday morning with a time of 1:03.05 in 18th place, which did not allow her to proceed to the final that evening.
“That was a little disappointing,” Ellingson said. “Let’s just say there were a couple tears during warm down that day. It definitely motivated me to do better on Saturday.”
Ellingson’s experience in the 100 breaststroke is exactly what makes the championship a difficult meet.
“The challenge is that you are among the best and can be at your best and still miss placing in an event by under a half second,” Kirner said.
Kirner said it’s particularly frustrating for swimmers who don’t qualify for the races and then realize their qualifying times would’ve placed compared to the final scores.
“It’s very frustrating to know you are that good but not quite up to it in the morning performance,” he said.
Both Kirner and Ellingson said Ellingson’s training for next year will focus on helping her achieve better times in the morning swims at big meets.
“Anika has drive and determination and such a great feel for the water,” Kirner said.
Next year, Kirner said he hopes Ellingson will return to the NCAA championship and place in both of her main events.