WALLA WALLA, Wash. Ė Can the Whitworth College men win a fifth straight Northwest Conference swimming title? Meanwhile, on the womenís side, is this the year that Whitworth (or one of the other conference teams) finally breaks the University of Puget Soundís 10-year stranglehold on the womenís crown?
Those are two of the key questions to be answered when the 2007 NWC Swimming Championships take place at Whitman College Feb. 9-11. Whitman is hosting the meet in the Paul and Louise Harvey Pool, its new state-of-the-art swim facility. The pool is part of the new $10 million Baker Ferguson Fitness Center, a 38,000-square-foot facility that opened last fall.
The three-day meet gets underway at 10 a.m. each day with preliminary heats. The evening finals start at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission is $2 per session or $5 for a meet pass. There is no admission fee for Whitman students, staff and faculty. Meet programs with team rosters, event schedules and other information will be on sale for $1.
The Baker Ferguson Fitness Center, which houses the new Harvey Pool, is located on the Whitman campus at the corner of Main and Park streets. Free parking is available along the streets and in a parking lot a half block away, next to Sherwood Center and Harper Joy Theatre. Click here for an online campus map.
The Whitworth men and women are the teams to beat at this yearís meet, which will draw a total of eight schools to the Whitman campus. Both Pirate squads rolled through undefeated dual meet seasons this winter. In January, the Whitworth women posted a decisive 122-83 victory over defending champion Puget Sound, handing the Logger women only their second NWC dual meet loss in the last 11 years. Meanwhile, the Pirate men completed their perfect season after surviving a 106-99 dual meet scare at Linfield College.
Samantha Kephart, a junior, leads the Whitworth womenís team. She won both butterfly events at last yearís NCAA Div. III national championships, and she holds the national record at the 200-yard distance. Kephart has won the 500-yard freestyle and two butterfly events at each of the past two NWC championships. She was named the womenís Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet both years.
So far this season, Kephart has NWC best times in the butterfly events. But one of her first-year Pirate teammates, Natalie Turner, has the seasonís best time in the 500-yard freestyle. Sarah Myrick, a Puget Sound junior, has the second-best time, relegating Kephart to third.
Turner also has season-best efforts in the 200-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events, and she ranks second this season behind sophomore teammate Brittany Gresset in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyles. Gresset is the defending champ in the 50 free.
Puget Sound sophomore Jane Kestner was last yearís conference champion in both the 200-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle races.
Jessie Donovan, a Pacific Lutheran first-year swimmer, has season-best times in both 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke events. Nancy Alexander, a Whitman junior and last yearís champion at 200 yards, has this winterís second-best time at that distance.
Kelly OíDell, a Puget Sound sophomore, has the top times in both breaststroke events, although junior teammate Amy Polansky is close behind. Polansky is the defending titleholder in the 100-yard breaststroke.
In the individual medley events, Puget Soundís Myrick (400 IM) and Whitworth junior Katelyn Erickson (200 IM) have season-best times. Lindsay Nixon, a Lewis & Clark sophomore who won both events at last yearís meet, is No. 2 this season at the 200-yard distance and No. 3 at 400 yards. Whitworthís Turner has this seasonís second-best time at the longer IM distance.
Other swimmers to watch on the womenís side include Pacific University sophomore Alex Prigge, Linfield senior Andrea Thomas, and Willamette University Becca Fischer.
In the menís competition, junior David Dolphay leads a Whitworth squad that has won 49 consecutive NWC dual meets. Dolphay, the returning champion in 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events, was co-winner of menís Outstanding Swimmer honors at the end of last yearís meet. He has this seasonís top times in all three events.
In the menís freestyle sprints, Willamette senior Kei Otawa and Puget Sound sophomore Bret Schluederberg are the swimmers to beat. Schluederberg has the seasonís best time at 50 yards with Otawa a close second. The two rivals trade places on the top-times list for the 100-yard distance. Linfield junior Kevin Caple is the defending champ at 100 yards, although he sits in sixth place this season in terms of best times for that event.
Caple has posted this seasonís top times in both 200-yard and 400-yard individual medleys. Neither event has a returning champion.
Paul Hughes, a sophomore at Puget Sound, is back after winning both breaststroke events at last yearís meet. Hughes set a new NWC record in the 100-yard breaststroke at last yearís meet and stands as the only active male swimmer who holds a conference record. This season, Hughes has the best time at 100 yards (younger brother Aaron Hughes is No. 2) but only the sixth-best time at 200 yards. Bryan Clarke, a Whitworth junior, has top honors this season in the 200-yard breaststroke with Willametteís Otawa in second.
Justin Lawton, a junior at Lewis & Clark, is the returning champion in the 100-yard backstroke, although he ranks fifth in the times posted this season. Puget Sound freshman Jackson Kowalski has this winterís top times in both backstroke events.
In the butterfly events, two Linfield freshmen have jumped to the front of the pack. Dom Rieniets has the seasonís best time at 100 yards, while Yusuke Kobayashi is top dog at 200 yards.
Other swimmers to watch in the menís competition include Lewis & Clark sophomore Pat Murray, Whitman sophomore Ysbrand Nusse, Pacific junior Nathan Smith, and Pacific Lutheran senior Jason Hesla.