(Photo: Zoe Hopkins | Courtesy)

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.