Ella Jones didn’t return to the pool until June.
It took her three more months to build up enough stamina to finish a practice.
By February, she was a state champion.
Like many other swimmers, the COVID-19 pandemic kept Jones out of the pool for much of spring. When she returned, a bout with mono prevented her from returning to full strength.
“When we first came back, everybody was already there after a few weeks, but then I wasn’t and I didn’t know why,” Jones said. “Then when I got tested for mono, it was positive. Coming back from mono, it took a long time – like a few months – to get back into it. I remember just getting out of the practice early because I couldn’t handle the whole thing yet.”
It wasn’t until September that Jones could handle a full practice, weeks into school season.
But once the Forsyth County Championships rolled around on Jan. 23, Jones was back to her dominant self. She won all four events at the meet, finishing first in the 200 medley relay [1:48.47], 100 fly [55.66], 500 free [4:55.79] and 200 free relay [1:38.89], and helped Lambert to a 169-point team victory.
At the Class 7A state meet, Lambert’s relay team of Jones, Sarah Blackstone, Sara Maschmeier and Alley Zaleski opened with a first-place finish in the 200 medley relay [1:46.17], edging Walton by just under a second.
Minutes later, Jones posted a second-place individual time in the 200 free [1:48.37].
“I definitely had more adrenaline, because all the events were back-to-back,” Jones said. “Right after one of my relays, I had to go right back behind to the staging area to get ready for my next event, so it was definitely more nerves because I didn’t have time to mentally think and prepare. I just had to go and do it.”
Jones dominated in the 100 fly [54.17], winning by more than a second and securing her third All-American time of the meet.
She says the 100 fly and 200 free are her favorite events.
“They’re kind of the events where I can just get up and go, and I don’t really think when I’m doing those events,” Jones said. “I kind of just turn my thoughts off and just go.”
Walton proved to be Lambert’s nemesis at the state meet, with the two teams trading points all afternoon.
It was up to the Longhorns’ 400 free relay team of Jones, Blackstone, Mia Wallace and Kara West to secure the win in the meet’s final event.
“By the 400 free relay, right before, I was like, ‘There’s a very small chance that we win this. This is going to be the closest thing ever,’” Jones said.
Lambert’s win by about four tenths of a second guaranteed the Longhorns their fifth state championship in program history.
A fifth state championship was Lambert’s goal at the beginning of the season, when senior Faith Johnson was diagnosed with leukemia, coining the phrase, “Fifth for Faith.”
“She was so excited,” Jones said. “That was the first time we had seen her in a while, because she has been at the hospital a little bit. She just hasn’t come to many of the meets; she’s just been watching them on the live stream. For a lot of us, seeing her at the banquet was the first time seeing her almost the whole season. It was really nice to see her. We were all happy and hugging each other.”