WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- First-year swim coach Jennifer Blomme is no doubt thankful that her Whitman College rosters include Tucker Jackson and Annie Findlay, two seasoned and talented seniors.
A two-event Northwest Conference champion as a sophomore, Jackson is back this fall after missing the bulk of his junior season while studying abroad.
Findlay emerged last winter as one of the top swimmers for a women's squad that posted its first winning dual meet record in years. Findlay led the charge during the dual meet season, winning two individual events in each of three consecutive conference meets.
Jackson, Findlay and the rest of Whitman's water warriors get their first taste of competition when they host the Lewis & Clark College on Friday, Nov. 10, and Linfield College the next day. The two Northwest dual meets will be held in the Sherwood Center pool.
In his final competition last winter, Jackson set a new Whitman school record in the 50-yard freestyle in winning that event at the highly competitive Northwest Invitational. He also won the 100-yard freestyle in that event and came with six-tenths of a second of winning the 200-yard freestyle.
Jackson (Seattle WA/Seattle Preparatory) won all six of the individual events he entered in dual meet competition last winter before leaving campus on his foreign study assignment. Over the course of his first three seasons at Whitman, Jackson has competed in 41 individual events in dual meets, winning 36 times and placing second four times.
"Tucker will be the one to watch on the men's team this year," Blomme said. "He looks beautiful in the water and is an extremely motivated swimmer."
Given his experience and talent, Jackson is the Whitman swimmer most likely to meet one or more of the stringent qualifying times for the NCAA Division III National Championships, which will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., next March.
Findlay (Fair Oaks CA/Loretto HS, Sacramento CA) won eight individual events during the dual meet season last winter and placed second on several other occasions. At the conference championships, she placed fourth in 400-yard individual medley and ninth in the 200 IM. Although Findlay has yet to crack a school record, she is close in four events, including the 200-yard breaststroke, where she has Whitman's second-best time.
Findlay and Heather Kelly are the only seniors on a women's roster that includes 18 swimmers, 13 of them first-year competitors. Kelly (Davis CA/Davis HS), who did not swim during her junior year, placed ninth as a sophomore in the 100-yard backstroke at the conference championships. Her time in that event still ranks as the 10th-best time by a Whitman swimmer.
"I'm excited about the women's team this year," Blomme said. "You don't expect a big turnout when you first step into a program. Having 13 new swimmers is a welcome surprise."
Other returning women swimmers are junior Audrey Gardiner (Kensington CA / St. Mary's College HS, Berkeley CA) and sophomores Ali Austin (Bellingham WA / Sehome HS), Heidi Buettner (Ashland OR/Ashland HS) and Danielle McClenahan (Boise ID / Boise HS). Gardiner had a strong finish to her sophomore season, placing sixth in the 200-yard butterfly and 10th in the 100-yard butterfly at the NWC championships.
New faces on the women's squad include sophomores Sonja Lapinksi (Portland OR/Catlin Gabel School) and Emily Locke (Seattle WA/Garfield HS). The many freshmen are Stefanie Bergh (Wayzata MN/Hopkins HS, Minnetonka MN), Noelle Chung (College Place WA / Walla Walla HS), Erin Drew (Madison WI/East HS), Allison Fast (Woodinville WA/Woodinville HS), Katie Imberg (Kirkland WA/Lake Washington HS), Ellen Klobucher (Bellevue WA/Eastside Catholic HS), Sophia LaHusen Bair (Cottage Grove OR/Marist HS, Eugene OR), Stacy Legg (Portland OR / Sunset HS), Krista Nishida (Vancouver WA / Fort Vancouver HS), Katherine Oglietti (Pinedale WY / Pinedale HS) and Merritt Olson (Amsterdam, Netherlands / International School of Amsterdam).
The men's roster, smaller in size, includes senior Rob Bechtloff (Lake Stevens WA / Lake Stevens HS), juniors Aric Jarrett and Art Riddle, sophomore Zach Seeley, and freshman Owen Unbehaun (Chehalis WA / West HS).
Jarrett (Mercer Island WA / Mercer Island HS) showed promise at last year's conference championships, skimming more than two seconds off his 100-yard freestyle time to win the consolation round, placing ninth overall. Jarrett also placed 11th in the 200-yard freestyle.
Riddle (Hillsboro OR / Hillsboro HS) finished 11th in both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstrokes at the conference meet, while Seeley (Tacoma WA / Wilson HS) added an 11th-place showing in the 200 IM.
Encouraged because her swimmers are "anxious to be in the water," Blomme has been working extensively with her athletes on technique and stroke mechanics. "It's very important for them to understand the fundamentals of their strokes before they start intensive training," she said. "With the fundamentals in place, the training will be so much more signficant."
Blomme looks forward to seeing her teams in competition and gaining a better understanding of individual strengths and overall team balance. "Everyone has demonstrated a sincere focus on the technique work so far," she said. "It will be a joy to see them race."