By Kevin Phillips
BEL AIR–Elkton’s Ella Pennington entered the 2022 MPSSAA 3A/2A/1A North Region Swimming and Diving Championships looking to repeat her performance in the same events two years ago when she won two titles.
Pennington accomplished her goals as she took home first place awards in the 100 yard butterfly and 100 yard backstroke to qualify for the state championship, breaking her own meet records in the process, and she credits her coaches and teammates for helping her be successful.
“I work really hard, and my coaches are super encouraging. They talk me through the race, and coach [Pat] Cline is big on visualizing the race beforehand,” Pennington said. “He has my teammates and I go through what happens when something goes wrong or something goes right and capitalize on your victories. I learned a lot from my teammates and coaches.”
Pennington’s first individual event was the 100-yard butterfly, and she got off to a quick start and led for the majority of the race, finishing the event in 58.85 and beating her two-year old mark by 1.12 seconds.
Pennington then followed that up with a victory in the 100-yard backstroke in 57.33, besting her 2020 meet record by nearly three seconds.
One key for her strong performances in the backstroke is that she is able to stay underwater for longer periods of time after making the turn, and that is a result of the work she does in practice with her club team.
“It takes a lot of practice. On my club team, we really are hyper focused on mechanics and focus on the underwaters, the turns, the starts and the things that aren’t found in the basic yardage programs,” Pennington said. “We just practice a lot.”
Cline says that one of the things that makes Pennington such a strong swimmer is that she knows her strengths and focuses on maximizing those strengths.
“Her big thing is that she knows what she does well, and that’s what she works on,” Cline said. “She has spent so much time working on her underwaters. That’s where she puts her effort because she knows that’s going to help her.”
Elkton’s girls 200-yard medley relay team also qualified for the state championship meet based on their third place finish in the race, and Pennington who swam the opening leg of the race seemed more excited about qualifying for the team event than she did for individual events.
“It certainly has given me encouragement. The big part was the relay. We opened up with a guaranteed spot in the states, all four of us, and that was epic beyond belief. I don’t think we’ve ever done that before as a girls’ medley relay,” Pennington said. “So, that was epic. It has given me a lot of encouragement for myself and my team that we were able to do that.”
Anyone who finished in the top three in the championship heats in each race automatically qualifies for the state championship while the 12 fastest times from non-automatically qualified participants from each classification also advance to the state championship, which gives several swimmers from the county a chance to qualify for the state meet.