Ellie Roche claims she was nothing special coming out of high school.
The current Michigan State swimmer and Fargo North High School graduate recently broke both the Michigan State breaststroke records in the 100 and 200 meters at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Columbus.
Her time of 2 minutes, 37.22 seconds in the 200 preliminaries on Friday, July 6, broke the previous mark of 2:37.55 set by Marina Borri in 2015. In the 100 prelims, her time of 1:12.28 on Sunday, July 8, broke the previous record of 1:12.82 set by Erin Szara in 2017.
"It was pretty exciting, it's cool seeing hard work pay off," Roche said.
Her mom, Tracy Roche, was in attendance for Ellie's record-setting swim. She was thrilled to see her daughter enter the Michigan State record books.
"It was awesome," Tracy said. "It's a dream come true to watch her break Michigan State varsity records. ... The best part of watching her swim is she's been getting better every year."
Accomplishments in the pool are nothing new to Roche. She won six North Dakota state championships in high school. She won state titles in the 100-yard breastroke in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and the 200 individual medley in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Despite all her success at the high school level, Roche was not highly recruited coming out of North. According to Tracy, they were trying to get the attention of a few Big Ten Conference schools. Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa were all on the radar, but Ellie did not receive offers from any.
She received a scholarship offer from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where her older sister, Emily, swims. The University of North Dakota, which no longer has swimming, offered Ellie a spot as a walk-on.
Michigan State swimming head coach Matt Gianiodis was notified of Ellie via an assistant coach, but was given someone else's contact info.
"When he first sent me her number, he sent me the wrong number and they cussed me out," Gianiodis said. "Eventually we got connected."
He viewed Ellie as someone who could probably come in and contribute to the team, but didn't see her developing into one of Michigan State's premier swimmers.
"She's far exceeded expectations," Gianiodis said. "She's been something else. I thought we certainly had somebody with untapped potential, but certainly didn't expect this."
Gianiodis expects Ellie will continue improving during her senior campaign.
"My sense is she'll be a top-8 kid in the Big Ten and hopefully set two or three more records and will go down as one of the best (Spartans swimmers) ever," Gianiodis said.
Swimming runs in the Roche family. Emily swam at Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2013-2017 and Ellie's younger sister, Olivia, is entering her sophomore year on the Minnesota State-Mankato swim team.
Ellie said having her mom continue to attend events brings back memories of competing when she was younger.
"Getting to go to this meet with my mom was really fun," Ellie said. "It kind of reminded me of childhood, going to meets and staying in hotel rooms together. That in itself was pretty special."
Tracy spoke of Ellie's work ethic both in the pool and in the classroom. This past year, Ellie was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
She is currently taking 12 summer credits, while applying to graduate school, as she enters her senior year at Michigan State.
Ellie said she couldn't have accomplished her success by herself.
"I don't take any of the credit for accomplishments on my own," said Ellie, who is a special education major. "I'm really thankful coach (Gianiodis) took a chance on me. I was nothing special coming out of high school. ... I'm definitely not going through this process alone."