Engman, an imposing 6-foot-7 senior and the defending conference champ in the event, was the underdog.
The favorite was Linfield College freshman James Adams, an extremely talented swimmer who some observers felt might never lose a conference race.
But not to worry. Engman was ready.
"Nathan is a very positive person," Whitman College swim coach Lee Coleman said. "He gets up there and he knows he can win."
Engman did just that Friday, overtaking Adams down the stretch, breaking the conference championship meet record and nearly bringing down the house in the process.
"Nathan had everyone in the place on their feet, cheering and yelling. The way he swam, he could win it at nationals, too. That's certainly in his game plan."
Peaking at the right time, Engman was timed in 1:47.79, his season-best effort and a national qualifying time. But it's still nearly a second off his school record time, which he set in placing fourth in the event at nationals last year.
The NCIC championships concluded on Saturday, Feb. 24, with freshman Garrett Hageman giving Whitman its best performance of the day. He placed fourth in the 1,650-yard relay, breaking a nine-year-old Whitman school record. His time over the first 1,000 yards, 10:12.48, also broke the school record for that distance.
"It was a sensational swim for Garrett," Coleman said. "He's a national-calibre swimmer. He had quite a meet."
On opening day (Thursday, Feb. 22) of the NCIC championships, Hageman shaved more than four seconds off an 11-year-old school record in the 500-yard freestyle. Hageman was clocked in 4:52.88.
Other opening-day highlights for Whitman included a new school record for the men's 200-yard freestyle relay team. Engman, Scott Daukas, Mike Horn and Jamie Kennedy lowered the school record to 1:29.61.