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WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Jennifer Blomme, a native of Walla Walla who moved east as a young child, has returned to the Northwest as the new men's and women's swim coach at Whitman College.
Blomme, 26, who recently completed her master's degree in applied sport science at Indiana University, replaces Jay Coleman, who resigned this summer after three seasons at the helm of the Missionary swim program. Coleman and his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to pursue other educational and professional interests.
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. She served as a volunteer women's coach at Indiana University the past two years while she completed her master's degree.
Dickinson and Bryn Mawr, like Whitman and Grinnell, are members of NCAA Div. III, which precludes schools from giving athletic scholarships.
"We feel like Whitman has a found a rising star in the coaching profession," Whitman athletic director Travis Feezell said. "Jennifer is a very intelligent young coach who has a wonderful background in swimming. Her approach to coaching fits tremendously well with the Division III expectation that students excel in academics as well as athletics."
Blomme 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.
"Coming back to Walla Walla and Whitman is great," Blomme said. "From the time I moved to Michigan as a child, I have always wanted to return to the West Coast."
After completing her master's degree, Blomme began searching for a coaching position at a small liberal arts college with an NCAA Division III athletic affiliation. "Whitman is one of the top schools in the country, which makes this a perfect fit for me," she said. "If you had asked me a year ago for a wish list on the type of coaching position I wanted, Whitman would have covered all the bases. You don't always get so much of what you are looking for, so I feel very fortunate."
Speaking in part from her own experience, Blomme bases her coaching philosophy on the concept that "Division III athletes are students first who want to fill their college years with a variety of experiences. Participation in sport can be a tremendous complement to their lives without dominating their collegiate experience."
In working with her athletes, Blomme tries to tailor training regimens to the needs of individual swimmers, and she stresses the importance of perfecting their swimming strokes. "Swim training is often based to a large extent on quantity," she said. "The idea is, the more you swim, the better you become. While there are times for high volume training, I really stress the value of technique and stroke mechanics. Swimming endless yardage during workouts is not the answer if you are not swimming efficiently."
As a swimmer, Blomme got off to late start. She was 16 and a junior at Northview High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., when she got her first taste of competitive swimming. "It was a whim, frankly," she said. "Being on the swim team sounded like fun. I was close friends with some of the swimmers, so I tried out and got hooked."
Blomme proved to be a quick learner, earning her team's "most improved" award in her first high school season. She won the same award in her first collegiate season at Grinnell. "For me, swimming is what held my college experience together," she said. "It gave me the chance to be part of a great community while still facing individual challenges, hardships and successes."
By the time she graduated from Grinnell, Blomme was starting to point her future toward collegiate coaching. During her one year as an assistant coach at Dickinson College, she tested career aspirations related to her Spanish language major, working as a bilingual assistant at the Center for Schools and Communities in Lemoyne, Penn. "What I discovered in my first year after Grinnell is that coaching and swimming are my passions," she said. "This is what I want to do with my life."
In addition to her coaching duties at Whitman, Blomme will also teach classes in sport studies and manage the college pool and its crew of lifeguards.
While working on her master's degree, Blomme worked the past two summers as an assistant coach for the Bloomington (Indiana) Swim Club, a group of 125 swimmers between the ages of seven and 18. Her coaching experience also includes stints with youth swim teams in Philadelphia, Grinnell and Carlisle, and as well as two summers as a coach and counselor for the University of Michigan Wolverine Swim Camps.