Hopkinsville’s Ella Falco is the 2021 Planter’s Bank Kentucky New Era girls swimming Athlete of the Year.

After the 2020 season came to a close, Hopkinsville’s Ella Falco had high aspirations for her final year as a member of the Hoptown swim team.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, it put a kink in those plans for her.

“I was planning on making top-eight at state since I finished ninth last year,” Falco said. “I wanted to drop time in the 200 and make it back in the 100. As the year went on with us being in and out of the water so much, I changed my goals to wanting to maintain.

I wanted to swim basically what I swam at region and state.”

With all the starts and stops throughout the year, causing Falco and her teammates to stay out of peak shape throughout the year, the senior still powered through the obstacle, winning a pair of regional championship races and finishing in the top-20 in the state in those races.

Her ability to power through everything in her path to put together a top performance at the highest level is why she is this year’s Planter’s Bank Kentucky New Era girls swimming Athlete of the Year.

Consistency was hard to find for Hoptown to get into the pool, as the team would be forced to take time off due to a COVID shutdown.

That hampered Falco throughout the year, not allowing her to get to where she wanted to be from a conditioning perspective.

“I think it’s harder for swimmers than people realize,” she said. “I feel like we need to be in the water to stay in shape. It’s not like we can run or condition out of water. We’d start for three weeks and as soon as you’d feel like you were getting in shape, you’d be out of the water for two and it was just back and forth. I never felt like I was ever completely in shape.”

Despite the pauses and starts and stops, Falco walked into the regional swim meet and won both the 100 and 200-yard freestyle races, qualifying for the state tournament.

She was also on a pair of relay teams that qualified as well.

“It was very exciting — I was proud of everyone,” she said. “Both of our relays made it and that was a completely new relay for us — we didn’t know if we would make it. Making it individually I was happy that I won at regionals. I didn’t want to lose after winning it last year. Winning in the 100 was exciting too because I lost last year.”

At the state meet, which was contested at three locations, Falco won the 200-yard free at the meet and came in third in the 100.

Those two finishes placed her 17th and 18 in the state, respectively.

Looking back, Falco wished she could ve experienced a full state meet one last time.

“I’m proud of what happened at state with what we were given,” Falco said. “I do better if I can race with someone. I was seeded first in the 200 so there wasn’t much of a race for me in that. I like to be seeded around third or fourth so there are people in front of me I can pace with. … It was hard and I would have much rather preferred to swim in Lexington.”

Now at the end of her high school career, Falco has decided to continue her time in the water, swimming collegiately for Birmingham Southern.

She said she is going to spend plenty of time in the pool this summer making sure she is ready to make a big splash at the next level.

“I definitely need to work on my relay starts,” she said. “That and just making sure I’m in shape going into next season.”

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