Elysse Pardus’ tears were a testament of what it took to get here.
“I’ve spent pretty much my whole life in the pool,” Pardus said. “Just knowing that if I worked hard enough I could become anything I wanted to become.”
What Pardus has become is one of the top swimmers in the nation. The Porter-Gaud junior committed to Auburn last month, delivering her pledge through tears with heartfelt speech in front of a crowded library on National Signing Day.
“Honestly, I had the option to go to any school I wanted,” Pardus said. “But the feeling from the moment I stepped on campus at Auburn and the energy on the pool deck made me want to swim for them and accomplish more with them.”
Pardus is a 10-time individual state champion at Porter-Gaud and holds seven state records. She’s never lost a SCISA event.
She started collecting state titles at just 13 years old, winning the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly at the SCISA championships in the seventh grade.
Porter-Gaud's girls swim team had never won a team state championship before she arrived. The Cyclones finished second in the state her eighth-grade year and it was on the bus ride home that Porter-Gaud swim coach Michael Walsh saw Pardus begin to separate herself as a leader.
"She was on the bus telling her teammates, 'Hey, we're going to win it next year. Next year is our year to win it all,'" Walsh recalls. "And she was right. She's always been that kind of leader. She's always been the rah-rah type, pumping everybody up, keeping everybody focused. I've had seniors that are captains but I've always been able to lean on her to lead the team too."
Pardus won the 200-yard freestyle with a record-setting time of 1:52.59 at the SCISA state meet this fall. She helped set a new record in the 200-yard medley relay too, a record that she and her teammates set in 2017. She also won the 100 fly by nearly five seconds, all to help Porter-Gaud claim its fourth straight team title.
"Elysse has an incredible drive to her. She does not like to lose," Walsh said. "She pushes herself to be as good as she possibly can. And I think she loves the team aspect of high school swimming. She's really behind that team concept at Porter-Gaud. She's bought into that and pushes herself to do everything she can to help the team be as successful as possible."
Pardus swims year-round with the South Carolina Swim Club, boasting an endless list of state and national accomplishments. She swam in three events at the Philips 66 National Championships last summer, finishing as high as 55th in 200-meter butterfly against much of the toughest competition in the country. She ranks first in the state in the 100-meter butterfly and top-five nationally in her age group.
“Swimming never ends,” Pardus said. “It never stops, August to August to August. I think that’s maybe why I like it. There’s always another swim to look forward to.”
With such an impressive resume, Pardus has been fielding college offers for years. She’s had more than 80 schools email her. She’s spoken with roughly 15 of them and visited 10.
“There are so many rules with recruiting that you have to take your time and be patient,” Pardus said. “You have to look at each school and meet the coaches and see their pool and their campus. Everyone is different so it takes some time to find the right situation.”
Gary Taylor recruited Pardus the past few years as the associated head coach at N.C. State, where he helped the Wolfpack women’s team win the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2017. Taylor was hired as head coach at Auburn in April, shifting Pardus’ focus to the Tigers and the Southeastern Conference.
“I was looking at N.C. State. But when I heard Coach Gary moved, I got super excited about Auburn,” Pardus said. “I don’t think I would’ve gone there if he wasn’t there because that’s what caught my eye.”
Pardus said she immediately fell in the love with the campus and the school but was sold by the energy and feeling she felt upon meeting the team.
“They were more of a family than any other team I’ve seen,” she said. “I fell in love with that and wanted to be a part of that.”
Pardus’ time of 54.26 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly at the SC Short Course state championships in February would already place her among the top 7 percent of Division I swimmers in college, and she still has another year of high school to improve before heading to Auburn.
Pardus isn’t looking too far ahead, though, focused instead on improving her times, earning a few more high school championships and returning to nationals.
“I just want to the best swimmer I can be right now,” she said. “I don’t have any standards I want to meet. I just want to keep getting better. I want to impress Coach Gary and prove that I earned that spot on the team in Auburn.”