After winning the 100 breastroke at last month’s G‑MAC championships, senior Anika Ellingson will compete in the NCAA Division II Championships for the third time in her career.
Ellingson will swim in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 13. The meet will represent the end of her 13-year swimming career, making this competition bittersweet, Ellingson said.
“I feel like it’s going to be my best year, but it’s also my last year,” Ellingson said. “There’s no next year for me, and it’s really weird.”
Ellingson’s qualification was pretty much expected, head coach Kurt Kirner said.
“I don’t fully believe in this thing called ‘talent,’ but she has it,” Kirner said. “She can take bad performances and use them to fuel her next ones in a positive way — that’s a true competitor.”
With her natural talent and unmatched speed, Ellingson is very prepared. However, Kirner said, the biggest hurdle in the way of a top-16 finish to become All-American is competing in the morning.
Ellingson swims her prime during the evenings, but with championship prelims starting at 10 a.m., she needs to swim especially well in the morning. Her prelim times determine whether she’ll swim in the finals, which happen in the evening. She’s been practicing four times a week in the morning and evening to help her body adjust to the racing schedule.
“She went in as the 13th fastest breastroker,” Kirner said. “But at nationals, everyone is at that level. She has to be one level above.”
The physical aspect isn’t challenging for Ellingson — it’s competing alone that affects her mentality. Occasionally, Ellingson’s teammates join her while she practices, swimming in the next lane as motivation.
“Swimming in a pool for over an hour by yourself with no one to really talk to is tough,” Ellingson said. “When your coaches are on deck or just having another body in the water next to me is really nice. It shows me that I’m not alone.”
Ellingson said this meet will end her swimming career on a high note. With her whole family attending the event and their strong family history in the sport, swimming is a uniting factor between them.
“This ending just signifies that this is a good thing. It’s the NCAA and there are very few things higher than this,” Ellingson said. “I’m good at my event. I’m good enough to be here, so I’m going to make the most out of it and have fun while at it because it’s the last meet of my life.”
Ellingson’s confidence has grown a lot since her first competition which has assisted her academic pursuits and other commitments outside of swimming, Kirner said.
“I think that swimming and being involved with the biology programs at Hillsdale has taught her a lot, and they just manifested into her growth,” Kirner said. “She’s been at national meets before, she had to push herself to do a thesis project, but she took these opportunities and embraced them as challenges.”
The entire swimming season itself was a long one, but her qualification is a reward from its extensive process. With her swim career ending, Ellingson said this meet will be the cherry on top to her year.
“You just focus and stay in your lane, because no one is going to get in your lane and bug you,” Ellingson said. “It’s just you, the water, and the wall. And those are the three things that will never change when you’re racing.”