WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Shaping a pair of teams budding with young talent is keeping Jennifer Blomme busy as she enters her second year as the men's and women's swim coach at Whitman College.
As in past seasons, the Missionaries lack the depth to hold their own in team scoring when facing the stronger swim programs in the Northwest Conference. When it comes to individual performance, however, look for Whitman swimmers to continue winning their share of events.
"We're a very small program," Blomme said. "In this league depth wins meets, but individually we should do well. There is a lot of team camaraderie and everyone wants everyone else to do well."
After losing perennial freestyle sprint champion Tucker Jackson to graduation, the men's team looks to retool behind promising freshman Keith Jarrett (Mercer Island, Wash. / Mercer Island HS) and junior triathlete Zach Seeley (Tacoma, Wash. / Wilson HS).
Jarrett, who's older brother Aric is one of two seniors on the squad, may have the brightest immediate future. "Keith is a very strong swimmer," Blomme said. "He is a potential national contender -- if not this year, then certainly in the years to come."
The younger Jarrett swims freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke.
Seeley, one of two captains for the men's team dabbled in a number of triathlons over the summer and returned to the team this fall in great shape. Seeley could swim any number of events, but his strength should be the 200-yard medley, an event that features all four strokes -- the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Seeley may also try his hand in distance events. "Zach is in awesome shape for this point in the season," Blomme said. "He's only going to get better as the season progresses."
The two seniors on the squad, Aric Jarrett (Mercer Island, Wash. / Mercer Island HS) and Art Riddle (Hillsboro, Ore. / Hillsboro HS), have battled nagging shoulder injuries throughout their swim careers.
Jarrett, also a team captain, already has the 10th-best time (2:13.25) ever posted by a Missionary in the 200-yard butterfly. "Aric is undergoing some therapy that we hope is what his shoulders need for him to succeed this season," Blomme said. "If all goes well, Aric should be tough in the conference in both the freestyle sprints and butterfly."
"Art is just starting to learn how hard he can push his body, in terms of what he can do in practice," Blomme added. "In the past, he has worn out his shoulders with overuse. With a more mature perspective this year, he should be competitive in the backstroke events.
Rounding out the men's team are Owen Unbehaun (Chehalis, Wash. / West HS), a sophomore breaststroker, and freshmen Ben Miller (Goshen, Ind. / Goshen HS) and Garth Brand (Monument, Colo. / Palmer HS).
Unbehaun was slowed by injuries last winter but hopes to bounce back as his second collegiate season unfolds. Miller is a freestyle sprinter who may also give the backstroke a shot this season. Brand will likely focus on distance events.
"Our men's team has a lot of strong leadership," Blomme said. "With the two seniors and Zach Seeley, we have people who know the ropes. They know what to expect in terms of how to handle the course of a season."
Like the men's team, the women's side suffered a blow or two in losing Annie Findlay and Heather Kelly to graduation. Ready to fill that void are first-year swimmer Alexis Jinbo-Doran (Honolulu, Hawaii / Iolani School) and returning sophomore standout Katherine Oglietti (Pinedale, Wyo. / Pinedale HS).
"Alexis is the one to watch on the women's team," Blomme said. "She's fantastic in the breaststroke and will probably break some school records this year. Her presence should also make Katherine a better swimmer."
Jinbo-Doran will also swim the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle.
Oglietti is already second all-time in Whitman's record book for the 100-yard breaststroke (1:12.23), and she's seventh all-time in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:40.28). "Katherine is a great one," Blomme said. "She works hard in the water and is in good shape to start the season."
Senior captain Audrey Gardiner (Kensington, Calif. / St. Mary's College HS) is another swimmer who wants to stay in the water for a full season. Chronic back problems have sidelined her at times in the past. When healthy, Gardiner is a threat in the butterfly, where she has the ninth-best Whitman time at 100 yards (1:03.57) and the tenth-best time at 200 yards (2:23.68).
The women's roster also includes three returning swimmers from last year, a senior who returns after a two-year absence, a first-year sophomore swimmer, and two more true freshmen.
Sophomore Stefanie Bergh (Wayzata, Minn. / Hopkins HS), also a women's captain, specializes in the distance events and may try the breaststroke this season as well. Katie Imberg (Kirkland, Wash. / Lake Washington HS), a sophomore, hopes to overcome chronic shoulder problems while contributing to the backstroke and 200-yard individual medley. Ellen Klobucher (Bellevue, Wash. / Eastside Catholic HS), a third returning sophomore, combines the distance events with the backstroke and has shown steady improvement, Blomme said.
Jamee Nowlin (Fairbanks, Alaska / Cordova HS) is the senior who is back with the squad after a two-year hiatus caused by shoulder miseries. Blomme hopes the time off has alleviated some of the pain, and notes that Nowlin could add depth in the butterfly.
Other newcomers on the women's team are sophomore Katie Billings (Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS) and two more true freshmen in Lindsay Brady (Madison, Conn. / Choate Rosemary Hall) and Kristyn Vytlacil (Bend, Ore. / Mountain View HS).
Both Missionary teams begin the season on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, with a pair of Northwest Conference dual meets at Lewis & Clark and Linfield colleges in western Oregon. Their only other competition this semester is set for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Northwest Invitational in Olympia, Wash.
The bulk of Whitman's schedule comes next semester, starting Jan. 4 with a dual meet at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif., and the Jan. 5-6 University of California-Irvine Invitational.
The Missionaries will host three NWC dual meets this season, starting with Willamette and Pacific Lutheran universities on Jan. 18-19. The University of Puget Sound visits the Sherwood Center pool on Jan. 26.