WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Senior Cindy Jo Allen, junior Garratt Hageman and sophomore Tucker Jackson will give the Whitman College swim teams a trio of top-flight swimmers to build around in the season that gets underway with a pair of dual meets on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13-14.
Jackson made a big impact last year as a freshman, setting a new school record in the 50-yard freestyle and earning honorable mention All-American honors in both the 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle events at the NAIA national championships.
Jackson, along with other swimmers at Whitman and throughout the Northwest Conference, face a much tougher task if they hope to return to national competition this winter. Whitman and most schools in the conference have completed their switch in national affiliation to NCAA Division III, which requires significantly faster times to qualify for national competition.
Jackson is one swimmer who might master the tougher times, Whitman coach Jay Coleman said.
"Tucker looks better right now one month into training than he did almost all of last year," Coleman said. "Everything he is doing in practice indicates that he will be faster than he was last year, maybe much faster. He has the best chance of anyone on our team of making NCAA III cuts. I think 70/30 in his favor is a good guess on his chances."
Hageman also had a huge freshman season two years ago, setting school records in the freestyle events at 500, 1,000 and 1,650 yards. He did not swim last season, but his school records still stand. He also shares school records in two relay events.
"Again, like Tucker, Garrett looks better at this point of the season than I can remember," Coleman said. "I am very pleased with how he has rebounded from a year away from swimming. Seeing his focus and the quality of his workouts at this point of the season, I think he will break each of his three school records and has a shot at the NCAA qualifying time in the 1,650. Garrett has great internal drive, and being able to train with Tucker is also a huge plus."
Allen was a study in inspiration last season, battling back from chronic shoulder problems to qualify late in the season for nationals in the 100-yard butterfly.
"Cindy Jo came within a fraction of a second of breaking the school record in the 100 butterfly, and she did it with 1,000 to 1,500 yards of training per day for just six weeks," Coleman said. "This year her shoulders are much better and she is swimming around 3,000 yards a day, which she hopefully can continue for the next five months. It scares me to think about how good she could be this season."
The conditional NCAA III national qualifying in the 100-yard butterfly is just over one minute, a time Coleman believes Allen can achieve. "I also think Cindy Jo might give the team record a scare in the 200 individual medley."
Coleman lists eight swimmers, six women and two men, in his next tier of competitors, all of whom have a good opportunity to score individual points in the conference championship meet.
One of the men is junior Dave Poore, who made the consolation finals in two freestyle events (100 and 200 yards) at the conference meet last year.
"Technically we have made big strides with Dave's stroke this year, which should translate into faster times," Coleman said. "I expect him to place higher this year in both of his best freestyle events and to make the top 16 in the 50-yard freestyle as well."
The other conference scoring threat on the men's team is Brian Wright, a junior butterfly specialist.
"Brian's times at this point in the season are better than they were either his freshman or sophomore year," Coleman said. "His season will be a little disjointed, however. In December, he is traveling to Thailand for a wedding, and in January he is going to Costa Rica with the Whitman class on volcanoes."
Carol Brooks, a junior, is one swimmer Coleman will lose altogether at the semester break.
"Carol will only swim the first semester because she is going to Vienna, Austria, in the spring," he said. "But even in a very short season she will put up some of our best times in the 50 and 100 freestyles. I only wish I had her all season."
Oddly enough, as Coleman loses one competitor to Vienna at the semester break, he will gain another swimmer who will return to campus after spending the fall semester in Austria. Brooks, in essence, is trading places with Jennifer Weiss, also a junior.
"Jennifer is an extremely versatile swimmer who will be a valuable asset when she returns," Coleman said. "As a freshman she qualified for nationals in breaststroke, backstroke and the individual medley."
Lani Schepler, a native of Walla Walla, is Coleman's top freshman this season.
"Lani grew up swimming in the local YMCA program, and she has always been a successful swimmer because of a great work ethic," Coleman said. "While she swims all events well, her main goals this year are in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle. Her best times coming into our program would have qualified for NAIA nationals last year. If she has a good year, she should score points at the conference championship meet."
One of the swimmers back from last year's team is junior Katie Berger.
"Her best events will be the 200-yard breaststroke, 500-yard freestyle and the 1,650-yard freestyle," Coleman said. "She has been a breaststroker for most of her swimming career, but at the end of last season we discovered that she does well in the mid- to long-distance freestyle events. We plan to develop her freestyle ability, and I think she the potential top be a high finisher at conference in the 1,650. Katie also is one of the best students on campus."
Audrey Gardiner, a freshman butterflyer, is concentrating on overcoming a bad back. "Through rehabilitation in the training room and changes in technique, I expect Audrey to be a competitive swimmer in both the 100- and 200-yard butterfly events."
Heather Kelly and Annie Findlay are sophomores who did not swim last year. "Heather has a lot of potential in the freestyle and backstroke events," Coleman said. "Annie's best events should be the breaststroke and freestyle events."
Rounding out the roster are nine swimmers who are relatively inexperienced or fighting more serious injuries
Sarah Cochran, a junior, continues to struggle on a daily basis with a knee problem that sidelined her last season. "She is not able to kick much, which means she will probably swim more distance freestyle than anything else because it requires less kicking," Coleman said. "Sarah along with freshman Jamee Nowlin are great inspirations to the entire team with their dedication to rehabilitate very difficult injuries."
As a high school junior, before suffering a shoulder injury, Nowlin posted extremely fast butterfly times that came close to Whitman school records. "Jamee is extremely committed to rehabilitating her shoulder, but it will probably take time before she returns to form," Coleman said. "I am still very positive about Jamee because of our recent history with rehabilitating Cindy Jo Allen."
Another swimmer on the comeback trail is Brian Fenn, a junior tried to swim as a freshman and sophomore but was sidelined with injuries. "I think Brian is going to make it this year," Coleman said. "His best events this year should be the breaststroke, and there is a hope that he could swim the individual medleys by late this season or next year."
Rob Bechtllof, a sophomore, made a late-season surge during his freshman year after "enduring what seemed like never-ending illness," Coleman said. "This year Rob is much healthier and much stronger. I expect him to improve his times dramatically."
Aric Jarrett, a freshman, is expected to challenge for the fourth spot on the men's freestyle relay teams. "Aric is a relatively inexperienced swimmer whose best events should be the freestyles and the 100-yard butterfly," Coleman said.
Corey McBoyle, also a freshman, has not competed since he was in the eighth grade, but according to Coleman, "it's all coming back to him very quickly. I think his best events should be the 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle events. Corey will be very good by the end of the season. I think he could be a great swimmer by the time he is a senior."
Art Riddle is another relatively inexperienced freshman who is making great improvement daily in practice. "I think with Art we are setting the foundation for years to come," Coleman said.
Josh Butchart, also a freshman, is a converted runner and water polo player. "His strengths look to be freestyle and breaststroke," Coleman said. "Josh fits into the inexperienced group, but he has the size and determination to eventually make himself into a fast swimmer."
A freshman on the women's team is Katherine Leitzel, who competed with the same club team, Swim Seattle, that helped develop Whitman's Tucker Jackson. "Katherine's goals are in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle," Coleman said. "She has already surpassed her lifetime bests in practice."