WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The Whitman College men's and women's swim teams hit the water for the first time this fall when they travel to western Oregon this weekend for a pair of Northwest Conference meets.
The NWC Sprint Pentathlon is set for Saturday afternoon at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. The NWC Relays follow at noon Sunday at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
Following this weekend's conference-wide meets, Whitman opens its dual meet season by hosting Lewis & Clark on Friday, Nov. 12, and Linfield College on Saturday, Nov. 13.
Jennifer Blomme, beginning her fifth season as the Whitman swim coach, starts with a roster of about two dozen athletes, about half of whom placed at last year's Northwest Conference Championships.
Blomme was named NWC women's coach of the year last winter after her women's squad placed fourth at the conference championships, just 11 points shy of third place and 49 points out of second. Most of those swimmers, with a few notable exceptions, are back.
"The women's team shows a lot of promise, but it is young," Blomme says. "Matching our season from last year in competitive strength will require everyone stepping up. We cannot just count on a few stars to take care of us."
The women's roster, which numbers 17 for the fall semester, features seniors Kristyn Vytlacil and Lindsay Brady, juniors Kathy Bui and Allison Boomer, and sophomore standouts Alexis Krupp and Nora Feeney. A handful of talented first-year swimmers is also ready to contribute.
Sophomore Danielle Shea, who set a Whitman school record in the 100-yard butterfly last winter, is sidelined this season with chronic back problems. At last year's NWC championships, Shea placed third in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events and was fourth in the 100-yard butterfly. She also helped Whitman set new school records in the two medley relays.
Shea is undergoing physical therapy this year in hopes of competing again in later years.
Also missing, at least for this semester, is senior Alexis Jinbo-Doran, who holds school records in both breaststroke events as well as the 200-yard individual medley. Jinbo-Doran is concentrating on academics this semester and hopes to return to competition in January.
"Every year is different and every season we have to find our own identity as a team," Blomme says. "We may be missing some big names, but we will carve a new identity as a team. With the enthusiasm and talent that we do have, we have just as much potential as ever to succeed."
Meanwhile, the men's squad remains on the small side with just six swimmers. Seniors Garth Brand, Keith Jarrett and Johnny Keyes, however, provide a strong nucleus. Jarrett and Brand are returning captains.
The men's team will "make the most" of its "extremely strong leadership," Blomme says. "With Garth, Keith and Johnny as seniors, we have not only talent, but experience and leadership that will benefit the entire program."
"We are also seeing tremendous improvement from Brett Lyon, a senior who missed the second half of last season while studing in France, and from Robert Street, a sophomore," Blomme adds. "Finally, Clint Collier, our lone freshman, is an incredible breaststroker, who with some growth will be even better in the coming years. Numbers are a challenge on the men's side, but talent, dedication and excitement are not."
In last year's NWC championships, Jarrett placed eighth in the 50-yard freestyle and was ninth in both the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke. Competing in the same meet, Brand finished ninth in the 1,650-yard freestyle, clocking the eighth-best time in Whitman school history. Brand added an 11th-place showing in the 500-yard freestyle, followed by a 14th-place finish in the 400-yard individual medley.
For Keyes, last winter was his first season of college swimming. By the time the conference championships rolled around, Keyes placed 11th in both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events. He was 14th in the 500-yard freestyle.
As a freshman at last year's NWC meet, Street placed in two events, finishing 14th in the 200-yard freestyle and 15th in the 200-yard breaststroke. Lyon, while he missed the conference championships last season, placed as high as 13th two years ago in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
On the women's side, sophomores Alexis Krupp and Nora Feeney are the top returning talents. Both made sizeable impacts last winter in their first college seasons.
Krupp, now a team captain, placed as high as third at the NWC Championships, setting a new Whitman school record in the 400-yard individual medley. She placed fourth in the 200-yard butterfly and sixth in the 200-yard individual medley. Krupp ranks fourth all-time at Whitman in the 200 IM and sixth all-time in butterfly event.
Feeney had similar success in her first trip to the conference championships, placing third in the 1,650-yard freestyle, and fourth in both the 400-yard individual medley and 500-yard freestyle. Feeney ranks anywhere from fourth to sixth all-time at Whitman in those three events.
Meanwhile, junior Kathy Bui capped her third season of Whitman swimming by placing sixth in the women's 100-yard backstroke at the NWC championships. Bui was 10th in the 100-yard freestyle and 11th in the 50-yard freestyle. Bui and Krupp also helped Whitman set new school records in the 200-yard and 400-yard medley relays.
One of the talented newcomers on the women's team is Nancy Alexander. Based on her previous best times, Alexander seems poised to challenge Whitman school records in the backstroke events.
Elizabeth Roberson and Ellen McCleery are two first-year swimmers who show promise in the freestyle sprints. McCleery also swims the breaststroke events.
Mara Abbott in the freestyle distance events and Emma Fulkerson in the individual medley events are two more first-year swimmers who should make good contributions this season.
The women's team also returns plenty of quality depth. Kristyn Vytlacil, a returning captain who placed 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke at last year's NWC championships, is one of several women who placed in last year's consolation finals (9th through 16th). Allison Boomer, Erin Phillips, Eric a Sorensen and Lila Little, in fact, all placed in one or more events.
Little and junior Lily Sobolik are on foreign study this fall. Others on the roster are junior Ashley Apel, sophomores Katharine Curles and Lisa Doane, and first-year swimmer Rhea Edelman.
Also back is senior Lindsay Brady, who missed her junior season while on foreign study. Two years ago as a sophomore at the NWC championships, Brady placed as high as seventh in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information, (509) 527-5902