Swimmer Ally McHugh, Little Flower grad and Penn State senior, primed for big things in 2018

US Nationals Swimming
Ally McHugh reacts after winning the women's 400 IM in the U.S. national championships last month.

What Penn State swimmer and Little Flower Catholic graduate Ally McHugh might accomplish in the next few years will determine whether 2018 was truly her breakout one.

Still, it’s going to be in the running.

This week McHugh, a rising senior, will compete as a member of the U.S. national team at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, which start Thursday in Tokyo.

The meet, at the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics, comes after McHugh won two medals last month at the U.S. national meet,

McHugh pulled the stunner of the meet by winning the gold medal in the 400 individual medley, making her Penn State’s first female national champion in swimming. She then got silver in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

“The Pan Pacific Championships is a huge meet and it is the deciding factor for which meet I will be going to next summer,” McHugh said. “I am just so excited to be on the team here in Tokyo with so many amazing athletes.

“This is only my second time out of the country. So being able to travel while doing what I love is something that I will always cherish.”

McHugh earned an automatic spot for the trip to Tokyo by winning the 400 IM. She made up close to a half-second deficit to upset 2016 Olympic medalist and defending champion Leah Smith.

“When I touched the wall after my 400 IM, I initially had not even realized that I won,” she said after posting a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 34.8 seconds. “At first, I was so shocked with my time and then relieved that all my hard work had earned me a spot on the Pan Pac team.

“Making the Pan Pac team was my big goal for the summer and I was so happy that I was able to achieve that goal. I really thought that my best chance of making the Pan Pac team would be in one of the distance freestyle events, but making it in the 400 IM was a very nice surprise.”

She medaled twice at 2018 Big Ten championships in February and got silver in the 1,650-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in March.

“Things have started to fall in place for me because I have really prioritized what is important in order to swim at my best,” she said. “In order to swim at this level, you have to give up a lot of things that many people would not do. But in the end, the results that I have had these past few years have been so rewarding and it has been so worth it.

“I am so proud to become the first national champion for Penn State. The school and the athletic department has given me so much and I so happy to put their name on the map. Penn State has been my home for these past three years and I’m so happy to bring attention to the team and show everyone that we are good and a force to be reckoned with.”