While at Huron High School, Elaina Baker was a captain for both the swimming and diving team and the water polo team before graduating in 2018. Elaina, who placed in the top 25 at the swimming state finals her senior year, was Regional Tournament MVP and Co-MVP for the State tournament in water polo in 2018.
Elaina, who now attends and plays club water polo at Michigan, is the daughter of David and Margaret Baker and one of five siblings with water running through their veins.
She plans to go to medical school after she graduates from U-M.
Q: What have you learned from your parents?
A: My mom is big on “unplugging” and spending time away from social media, and growing up she didn’t allow us to have a TV in the house. Now that I’m in college, she’s not there to nag me about it, but I’ve still learned to take breaks from my phone and go on a walk or read a book.
My dad works at practically all hours of the day and doesn’t really ever stop. I think I’ve inherited his hardworking spirit and determination, and particularly never to stop until the work is done.
Q: What do you like about swimming and water polo at an early age compared to other sports?
A: When I was younger I only swam on a summer swim team (OHAC). I wasn’t much of a runner so the pool just seemed to be where I belonged. The swimming and water polo community, especially in Ann Arbor, is extremely tight and I think in a very unique way different from that of other sports.
I had many friends across town who I only saw at meets or at club practices, but we all shared the same pains and joys of swimming.
I think what also makes swimming especially different is that it is very much an individual sport. Because you’re in the water the whole practice, you can’t really talk to anyone else, but there’s also a sense of community within that individual experience.
Q: What do you attribute your success in swimming to?
A: My success in swimming definitely comes from the first tough coach I ever had, Chris Berloth (also a Huron grad). He invited some of the more advanced swimmers on OHAC to “Intensives” practices at Dolfin pool. They were at 8:30 every summer weekday morning and we all dreaded them. He made us do hundreds of laps completely underwater and if we didn’t make them, we had to do them again. I used to count the minutes until practice was over.
But through those practices, I learned how to work hard. When I got to high school, pushing myself at practice was much easier. I should also note that within that group of “Intensives” swimmers, some of them placed in the Finals at their State meets in high school (as well as a few state champions) and many of them swim in college.
Q: What about water polo?
A: I think for water polo I would also have to say that my success should be attributed to my coaches. Coach Bob on the JV team freshman year answered my every question during our daily huddles (and there were a lot of questions).
Mike Gottliebsen was by far the best coach I have ever had – swimming and water polo. He held me accountable when I made excuses for my mistakes, and encouraged me when he knew I needed it. He also knew how to use me as a player, how to take advantage of my ambidexterity and skillset.
There’s also no way I would have been as successful my senior year had it not been for my teammates. During my first two years, I looked up to and learned from my older teammates, and during the last two I leaned on the teammates from my class.
Q: What did you learn from sports growing up that has helped make you a better person today?
A: I think most people would say they learned sportsmanship or how to be a team player, but for me I learned how to build a community. And once again, I think this is not something you can get on other sports teams. I think that the social benefits of being on a team are overlooked.
In high school, I spent all of my time with my fellow swimmers and water polo players. We went to morning practice at 5 a.m. and ended the day after practice at 7 p.m. together. We spent many weekends at tournaments and swim meets (or if there were none, at practice again). Aside from going to school and doing homework, swimming or water polo was my life. I definitely think I gained the skills needed to create that sense of community and feel like although now that I am out of that world, I have that ability to create a community everywhere I go.
What were some of your high school highlights?
Swimming: Varsity team all four years. Junior year (2016) I placed 19th in the 100 Back at the D2 State Meet, and senior year (2017) I placed 22nd (100 Back) in the D1 State Meet. Senior year I was on two relays that scored in the top 25 at D1 States.
Water Polo: Varsity and State team all four years. My senior year (2018) we were District and Regional Champions and State runners up. I was First Team All-Region, Regional MVP, State MVP and All American. I also scored over 100 goals that season.
Other: I am a viola player. Senior year (2018) I performed a concerto in Huron’s Concerto Concert. I was also a Finalist for the Dexter Community Orchestra’s Concerto Competition in 2017.