Former Litchfield swimming star and 2015 graduate Anika Ellingson ended her high school swimming career on a high note, with a fifth-place finish and a spot on the medal stand for her performance in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Minnesota State Class A Swimming and Diving Meet on Nov. 14, 2014.
Since then, the notes have only gotten higher — or faster, in Ellingson’s case.
Almost a year to the date of her fifth-place finish at state — which saw Ellingson swim the 100 breaststroke in 1:07.05 — Ellingson swam the same event in 1:04.58 at the University of Chicago Invite to set a personal best and break the school record at Hillsdale College, an NCAA Division II swimming program in Hillsdale, Michigan.
And that was only the beginning.
A memorable freshman season culminated in Ellingson’s record-setting performance at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s conference meet this February, when Ellingson broke her 100 breaststroke record by more than a second, swam one leg of a record-setting 200 medley relay team and set the school mark in the 200 breast — an event Ellingson had never swam before this year.
For Ellingson, breaking the 100 breaststroke the first time at the Chicago Invite showed the freshman just what was possible in her first season.
“Going into the season, I felt like I had something to prove,” Ellingson said. “I was only coming in as a ‘one-stroke wonder’ kind of deal. Just breaking that record in Chicago felt great — like great great — because not a lot of freshmen do break records.”
And as the Litchfield grad gained confidence in the heretofore untested 200 breaststroke, Ellingson’s taste for records only increased.
“Once I started getting the hang of the 200 breaststroke, I really wanted to break that one too,” she said.
And break it she did.
On Feb. 13, at the same GLIAC meet where she beat her own 100-yard breaststroke record from earlier in the season, Ellingson obliterated the previous 200 breaststroke school record by five seconds with her time of 2:19.38.
To cap it all off, Ellingson made it a trifecta with her performance in the 200-yard medley relay at the GLIAC meet, swimming the breaststroke leg to help give the Hillsdale team a sixth-place finish and a new school record of 1:46.84.
Oh so close
For all of the personal bests and school records Ellingson set in her freshman season at Hillsdale, she came tantalizingly close in all three events to an even bigger accolade: competing in the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving National Championship on March 12 in Indianapolis.
In the 200 medley relay, Ellingson’s quartet of swimmers fell just 0.30 seconds short of an NCAA B-cut time, and Ellingson swam fast enough in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes to earn NCAA B-cut times.
Unfortunately for Ellingson, a B-cut time — unlike an A-cut time — does not guarantee a swimmer a spot in the national championships.
The B-cut time can get you invited to the national meet but it depends on the number of A-cut times that are earned and whether one of the other swimmers with a B-cut time in your event has an A-cut time in a different event.
“It’s definitely up to luck a little bit,” Ellingson said of the cut-time procedure.
After all was said and done, Ellingson missed swimming in Indianapolis by the narrowest of margins — and it’s made her goals for next year clearer than ever.
“I don’t want to miss nationals by .02 again,” she said. “That was disappointing.”
Hard work pays off
After a decorated high school career, Ellingson wasn’t entirely sure what was in store at the Division II level.
After a season that ran from Labor Day until Feb. 13 — and an “off-season” training regimen that picked up just two weeks later — Ellingson now knows the amount of work that goes into cutting time.
“The training is a lot more intense,” Ellingson said. “… We did a lot more weightlifting and cross-training.”
All her training kept Ellingson focused and intent on seeing her times drop, especially as she pushed the school record in the 100 breaststroke lower and lower.
“I think when I saw that number, I was kind of relieved because I was like, ‘My goals aren’t too farfetched’ so I could move on to the next one,” she said. “… Just seeing those times is almost a sense of relief knowing that I can do those things at that my training wasn’t wasted.”
All of Ellingson’s training is also helping the Chargers make waves as a program, and that progress is evident in the success of underclassmen like Ellingson.
Each member of the record-setting 200-yard medley relay — Ellingson, Suzanne DeTar, Erla Sigurjonsdottir and Tiffany Farris — is a freshman, boding well for the Chargers’ future.
Ellingson is excited about building something at Hillsdale with DeTar, Sigurjonsdottir, Farris and the program’s fifth freshman, Grace Houghton.
“This group of freshmen, my class, we’re all very close, which doesn’t normally happen,” she said. “We’re all friends; we don’t have any rifts. … We’re all very, very talented in our specialties, which is great for our team.”