Having conquered her conference, first-year Ellie Elgamal looks ahead to the NCAA Championships, where her performances have made the national cut in three races.
In a year of new beginnings, it is fitting that a once-stagnant Chicago swim team finds its breakout champion in a first-year. Shattering records at every competition this quarter, Ellie Elgamal has been an integral part of women’s swimming’s turnabout season. Winning virtually every event of hers over the dual meet schedule, Elgamal brought the season to a roaring crescendo at UAAs, seizing first in the 100-yard fly (58.04) and fifth in the 200 IM (2:12.74).
“Ellie has made an enormous impact on the women’s team. Most of it was expected because I knew of her abilities beforehand,” head coach Jason Weber said. “I was pretty confident that she’d qualify for NCAAs, since her personal records would rank her top eight in DIII.”
Beginning her swimming career in seventh grade, Elgamal quickly found her home in the pool. By freshman year of high school she had broken the minute in the 100-fly, and by the time she was accepted at Chicago, her best times in the 100-fly (56.05) and 200-IM (2:05) placed her in Division III’s top eight for both events.
“I chose to swim here because it wasn’t a job like at other schools,” Elgamal said. “I wanted to have some fun, and I knew this was an amazing team. It was where I wanted to be, and I couldn’t have found a better group of girls and guys to swim with.”
Working alongside her teammates, Elgamal has elevated the women’s group to a new level. Beating last year’s performance, the Maroons achieved a fifth-place UAA finish, as well as a 6–3 dual-meet record over the season. Elgamal’s presence in competitions and practice has been a critical asset to this rise. Her experience ensures that the Maroons consistently win events. Her kindness and joyful attitude have perhaps been an even more valuable contribution to the program, with both the men’s and women’s teams benefiting from her humble and encouraging personality.
“She’s nice, lighthearted, and really refreshing,” second-year teammate Carla Penicka said. “It’s really great to have her as a member of the team.”
“Ellie is one of the hardest workers and never complains. She also gives many of the guys a run for their money in fly and kick sets during workouts,” Weber said. “Having her on the team definitely makes all of the swimmers around her better.”
Despite her camaraderie and team spirit, Elgamal now swims alone in the pool. There will be no announcements on men’s cuts for another week, and she is the only women’s swimmer to have qualified. Practices have become more intense in preparation for the final showdown. Coach Weber has doubled her yardage from the 3,000 yards of taper to 6,000-yard workouts to increase her endurance. Her sprinting skills will be sharpened using swim bands, long plastic strips anchored to the wall, providing Elgamal with resistance in her sets.
Historically, Chicago has rarely sent swimmers to the NCAAs. Turning the page on that chapter of the program, Elgamal proves she is an exception. Yet, she knows the nervousness she felt on the UAA blocks will be far worse on March 13–15. It will be her first chance at national glory, but no matter the outcome, Elgamal has already become the leader that Weber expected her to be.
“It is exciting to actually have a serious event. You become numb to meets with all those competitions over the year. Right now, I am just really nervous, tingly all over, and I swim better when relaxed,” Elgamal said. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Although she has flattened the UAA field, the competition she will face in Oxford, OH is the pinnacle of the division. Returning from Chicago’s own conference, Emory second-year Lillian Ciardelli is currently seeded at fifth in the 100 fly with a time of 57.32. It bodes well that Elgamal resoundingly crushed Ciardelli by almost a second at UAAs, but the Eagles swimmer is not at the top of the opposition.
Even if Elgamal were to replicate or beat her personal record of 56.05, she would still be hard-pressed to take the gold. Neck-and-neck at first and second with records that rival even Division-I swimmers, The College of New Jersey fourth-year Ava Kiss (55.94) and Denison second-year Olivia Zaleski (55.31) promise to put up some serious times. Despite her opponents, Elgamal’s business is winning, and she will definitely be swimming fast by showtime.
“Ellie has an excellent shot of making finals and becoming an All-American. My goal is for her to get some experience of swimming at this level so that in the years to come she feels comfortable competing against the top swimmers in DIII. I hope she can score some points so that Chicago will get ranked nationally, but I would love for her to make those finals. She deserves it,” Weber said.
Regardless of her butterfly and IM performance at the NCAAs, Elgamal has guaranteed herself a legendary position in Chicago’s athletic history. After only one year, she has seamlessly integrated herself into the group and played an important role in tuning the rusty program into a sleek, speedy machine. If this year is any indication of things to come, the Maroons will have a bright future indeed.
“We did this year together, and I am representing our school. I want to show NCAAs that the University of Chicago is here. I can’t say what will happen next year, but I know we will make large strides. Hopefully, I’m still swimming well. But no matter what, I know we are going to have a fast team,” Elgamal said.