WALLA WALLA, Wash. - Jennifer Blomme, the swim coach at Whitman College the past four seasons, has earned "Coach of the Year" honors for women's swimming in the Northwest Conference.
Al Stephenson, the swim coach at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., received the same award for men's swimming. Decided by a vote of coaches, the awards were given Sunday at the conclusion of the Northwest Conference Championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash.
Competing in a field of eight schools, the Whitman women's team placed fourth at the championship meet with 388 points, just 11 points behind third-place Willamette and 49 points out of second place.
With one exception, it was the highest point total for the Whitman women's team in the 27-year history of the conference swim meet. The Missionary women scored 416 points at the 1992 meet, placing fifth in a six-team field.
A year ago, the Whitman women's team placed fifth at the NWC championships with 310 points. That was just 18 points out of fourth place but a whopping 206 points out of third.
Travis Feezell, the athletic director at Whitman, wasn't surprised to see Blomme singled out for one of this year's coaching honors.
"The direction of our swim program has been on a phenomenal upward trend since Jenn's arrival," Feezell said. "It seems only natural that her peers in the conference would recognize her hard work. She is a supremely talented coach. It's a well deserved honor."
Alexis Jinbo-Doran, a junior captain, and first-year swimmers Danielle Shea, Nora Feeney and Alexis Krupp sparked Whitman's strong showing at this year's conference meet. In individual events, Missionary women placed in the championship flight (top eight) a total of 13 times, up from eight times in 2003 and just three in 2002.
Under Blomme's direction, the Whitman men's team also made big improvements at this year's NWC championship meet. Led by sophomores Matt Warren and Arthur Jones and junior captain Keith Jarrett, the Missionaries placed in the top eight a total of seven times. The men's squad failed to place any of its swimmers in the top eight in 2003, after placing just one swimmer in the top eight in 2002.
Blomme began coaching at Whitman in the fall of 2000, after completing a master's degree in applied sports science at Indiana University. She served as a volunteer women's swim coach at Indiana for two seasons while she worked on her master's.
As an undergraduate, Blomme was a varsity swimmer at Grinnell (Iowa) College, where she specialized in the breaststroke. Grinnell, which has a traditionally strong NCAA Div. III swim program, captured its conference title in two of her four seasons there.
After earning her undergraduate degree in Spanish at Grinnell in 1996, Blomme was an assistant swim coach at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Penn.) for one season and the head coach at Bryn Mawr (Pennsylvania) College for one season.
Taking the coaching position at Whitman was a homecoming for Blomme, who was born in Walla Walla while her mother, Gayle Blomme, was working as a sabbatical teaching replacement in the English Department at Whitman. The family soon moved to the Olympia, Wash., area and later relocated to Michigan.
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information
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