Water Polo, Swimming
Favorite athlete: Hannah Patterson- a previous classmate of mine that was an inspiration and taught me the love of CrossFit. She pushed me to be my best, was very humble, and we shared a healthy competition.
Favorite teams: Sixers and Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: 2019 Play-in Games for water polo at Wilson High School
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I got a cramp while swimming in a race, turned my head to the side, took a breath, and yelled to my coach that I had a cramp.
Music on playlist: Luke Combs and Post Malone
Future plans: I got accepted into the United States Coast Guard Academy where I will major in government and continue to swim.
Words to live by: “Success is not the same for everyone, different people are going to have different goals and the definition of success is different in every individual's mind.”
One goal before turning 30: Travel to 5 different countries.
By GORDON GLANTZ
Souderton senior Ellie Hiestand appeared to be signed, sealed and delivered to Shippensburg University.
While the school had a strong criminal justice program and a nice campus, she also got a good vibe from the swimming coach, Tim Verge, and believed she would excel under his direction.
But something told her to place her academic credentials - National Honor Society, a weighted GPA of 4.07, etc. - into an internet database for swimming programs to see what would come back as a match.
One of the hits was the United States Coast Guard Academy.
At first, Hiestand was bemused by the idea, but her father encouraged her to look into it further, reminding her how much she loved the water and that she would be on the coast in New Britain, Conn., or anywhere she’d be stationed after graduation.
Hiestand reached out to the coach, John Westcott, and decided to visit before her junior year.
“Thank goodness I did it at that time because, if I didn’t, I would never be able to see the campus,” she said, adding that the 40-acre campus was eventually shut down (due to COVID) to the public. “I was thankful I got to see it. Once I stepped onto that campus, I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this place.’ It’s on the water. There is a lake that runs through the campus.”
The swim program also met her standards.
“I absolutely adore the coaches,” she said. “I felt like the environment and the energy that they were putting out made it exactly where I wanted to be. But, it’s more than swimming when you are committing to an academy. You’re committing to serving your country.’”
The more Hiestand thought about it, the more she decided to go for it at a place where the acceptance rate is around 15 percent.
“I started looking into it more,” she said. “The more I looked into it, the more and more I fell in love with it.”
Hiestand was accepted into a summer program, which ended up going virtual.
As intrigued as she was, some natural caution remained.
She said: “I don’t come from a military family, so a lot of it is understanding it: What is the military? What is the academy? What will I be doing? While I wasn’t able to go up there and experience it first-hand, I did do it virtually. I got to speak to a lot of the cadets there, and speak to other people going through the process. I really loved it.”
Then came word she had received early admittance and she accepted. She will major in government while receiving a Bachelor of Science degree.
Never one to let the grass grow under her feet, Hiestand found out all she could, via virtual activities such as: Athlete Day; Focus on her major (Government), etc.
The choice was clear for the fan of country music, who does the polar plunge each year and is involved with the Special Olympics.
“I was really confident that the (Shippensburg) swim coach was going to make me into a better swimmer,” she said. “I had to take a step back and think about it. I’m not going to be an Olympic swimmer, so it came down to what was going to benefit my future a little bit more.”
‘Hobby’ Becomes a Passion
Despite individual success as a swimmer, there is something about the team aspect and bonding of water polo that had Hiestand consider making what was a fun little hobby into her main focus.
“For the last few years, I was even looking at college for water polo,” she said. “But, honestly, it was really hard to find colleges that offered just water polo.”
Unlike swimming, which is steeped in Division II programs, i.e. Shippensburg, water polo opportunities are either at some random Division III schools or elite Division I programs, such as Princeton, where she attended a camp with Souderton teammates and saw how seriously others take the sport.
“There were girls there from California who only do water polo and don’t swim (competitively),” she said. “They just play water polo, and they are very dominant at water polo. We were like, ‘What?’ We swim all year while water polo is just a thing we do in the fall. It was neat to hear how everyone’s experiences were so different.”
Nonetheless, water polo became a heart and soul sport for not only Hiestand, but for all of her teammates.
“I really love water polo because it’s different than swimming,” she said. “In swimming, you have to find your own reason why. You are doing it for yourself. It’s on you. It’s more of an individual sport. It’s really cool to experience both with water polo, where you’re talking to your teammates the whole time for the whole game. You are talking the whole practice, because it is important to coordinate your plays in the water and it’s important to coordinate your behavior with your teammates out of the water and form those relationships and tight bonds.”
Sigh of Relief
With COVID looming like a dark cloud, the Souderton water polo players trained on their own – officially and unofficially, in the pool and on land – until they got the green light this fall.
“It was crazy,” said Hiestand. “Every single girl on the team had this mindset of ‘I don’t even care if we have a game.’ Everyone showed up at practice, without even knowing if we were every going to have games, and still gave like 100 percent. They showed up to practice because they liked to practice, because they liked playing water polo.”
The truncated season was devoid of the beloved weekend tournaments and tailgating, but Hiestand is grateful for what they got in under the circumstances.
“Once we started having games, it was like a relief,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can end this on a good note.’ It’s a relief to know I was going to have an end.”
What’s interesting, as she gushes about her teammates and their effort, is that Hielstand will never mention her own leadership role, or the fact that she was named team MVP at season’s end.
We’ll leave that to her coach, Crystal Armstrong, who deployed her team leader at multiple advantageous positions.
“Ellie was instrumental in many of our wins, as well as a strong leader in and out of the pool,” said Armstrong, who was a first-year head coach this year after two years as an assistant. “She received the team MVP award for the season, and fully deserved it. Her knowledge of the sport, her drive to be not just good but great, and her love for the team allowed Ellie to be a fantastic water polo player in every aspect.”
Since Armstrong coached Hiestand when she was a youngster, she was not surprised by her leadership.
“It is difficult to find an athlete this passionate about the sport but, even from a young age, she was skilled and strong and knowledgeable,” said Armstrong. “It only developed more and more with time.”
While not one to praise herself, Armstrong’s words were music to Hiestand’s ears.
“It makes me feel like I got my point across,” said Hiestand. “As a leader and an upperclassman, if you show up with a bad attitude, everyone else is going to be in a bad mood and not want to be there. I always strive to want to be present, and to be in the moment. It really is about how you present yourself. It makes me happy that I was able to do that.”
A Lesson Learned
For as sure as she is now about what she wants for the future, there was a time when Hiestand was nearly paralyzed by her own self-doubts.
It came in her freshman year at Souderton, a year when her reputation led to unfair expectations.
“I did deal with some adversity when I was a freshman,” said the daughter of Jen and Dean and sister of Lily and Addie. “I struggled a lot with the adjustment. High school sports are a huge commitment. You come in from just your little community league, where everyone gets participation trophies and everything is sunshine and roses. You come into high school and the competitiveness increases by a whole bunch.”
Hiestand, who was swimming before she could walk and competing in meets by grade school, had already been a Junior Olympian when she entered high school, so she understood the hype.
However, more than the coaches or teammates, all of whom were generally supportive, she knows she was her own worst enemy.
“Everyone was all excited to see what I could do,” she recalled. “I felt like I didn’t live up to what everyone wanted me to do, especially when everyone presented it to me like I was going to be a big rock star.”
Naturally, and even though there was a light at the end of tunnel, the grind was wearing on her.
“It was hard waking up every morning at 5 a.m., doing the same thing and not seeing any results,” she reflected. “I am thankful that I had that love for swimming, because that is what got me through it. I had great teammates, too. They were, like, ‘You may not want to go swimming for yourself, but we need you there.’ And, by the end of the year, I was able to qualify for districts. But, it was just a real struggle and a real eye-opener.
“It put me in a real uncomfortable situation, but you can’t deal with the uncomfortable unless you go through the uncomfortable.”
The message for the many others going through the same experiences now, or who will the future, is to just take care of your own world.
“I really started to just stay in my own lane and not worry about everyone else around me and worry about what I was doing,” she said. “Other girls might be going extra fast, dropping their times that they needed to qualify for districts and be in the ‘A’ relay, but as long as I just worried about what I was doing and stopped comparing myself to the others, I started celebrating the little victories. Once I was able to stop putting pressure on myself, I was able to succeed and start enjoying it.”
At present, for her final hurrah as a high school swimmer, Hiestand is qualified for districts in the 100 backstroke and pair of relays: 200 Medley and 200 Freestyle.
“I hope to advance to states with those relays,” she said.
A Day of Rest
Hiestand has also discovered her own ways to eliminate stress, and she didn’t do it alone. While her gratitude list extends to all her coaches – from Armstrong to Lou Williams (current high school coach) to Judy and Tracy Hemmerle (community coaches) to freshman coaches Robert Faccenda and Deanne Morris -- she thinks of a former fellow student, who was actually a grade below her, who she met in a strength training class, named Hannah Patterson.
Patterson, who has since moved to Colorado, was deeply involved with CrossFit training.
“She was a huge inspiration to me, and taught me how to stay in my own lane and compete against myself,” said Hiestand. “That carried over to swimming. It helped with my mental fitness, because swimming is such a mental game. She was not a famous athlete or anything, but someone who inspired me throughout my time.”
Without Patterson nearby (they still communicate), Hiestand finds herself doing some yoga. Sometimes she is able to convince her mother and/or sister to join, but she usually on her own.
And that’s fine by her.
After swimming six times a week, Monday through Saturday, it’s exactly what she needs.
“On Sundays, I’m super sore,” said Hiestand. “I like to do yoga and stretch it out. I don’t do a hard Pilates yoga. I just like to do a simple stretching yoga and listen to what they say. It’s nice and soothing, and they do some meditation with it.
“Everyone’s body needs that escape from reality, and to give time to yourself and everything like that.”
Leaving a Legacy
An outdoor lifeguard in the summer season and an indoor one in the offseason, it is important to Hiestand to leave a mark on the community where she was weaned.
A year ago, she mapped out a whole water polo program for younger kids that was approved and ready to rock (20 kids were signed up).
“And the week it was supposed to start, COVID hit and we couldn’t do it,” she said. “But, I’m really hoping to start something up like that again. It will have to do with what is allowed with COVID.”
In addition to water polo, she believes it is important for swimming to keep pace with other sports.
She knows what it has done for her, and wants the same for others.
“I think it’s really important to grow our swim program,” said Hiestand. “It’s easier to recruit people to stay with other sports. With swimming, it’s really difficult to develop the fundamentals of how to make it across the pool. I think it’s really important to grow the swimming community in our area, and to just really give back and keep that program going. I want that program to be just as strong as it is right now when I leave.”