WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The Whitman College swim teams are poised to launch something more than a just new season.
The Missionaries are unveiling a new era in Whitman swim program history – one that marks a maiden voyage of sorts for the new Paul and Louise Harvey Pool.
As the centerpiece of the new $10 million, 38,000-square-foot Baker Ferguson Fitness Center, the new pool features a moveable bulkhead that allows for eight competition lanes as well as a warm-up and cool-down area. It also comes with a state-of-the-art digital timing system, an elevated spectator area with seating for 190 people, and a number of wave suppression design elements aimed at creating fast racing conditions in the pool.
"The new pool facility has had a major and very positive impact on our swimmers from the start of our first practice," Whitman coach Jenn Blomme says. "This wonderful new facility makes our swimmers feel like what they are doing is important. They are taking their training very seriously, and at the same time they are having a lot of fun. This new space is instilling new enthusiasm, excitement and drive in our swimmers."
Now in her seventh season, Blomme and second-year assistant coach Garth Brand are working with 16 athletes in the women’s program, which has established itself in recent years as one of the better programs in the Northwest Conference. On the men’s side, Whitman starts with 11 swimmers, a significant increase over last year’s seven.
"Our men’s team can now look to be more of a competitive force during the dual match season," Blomme says. "It’ll be exciting for the men to focus on trying to win dual meets. In recent years, we didn’t have enough swimmers to do that. All we could do was work on posting fast individual times and getting ready for the conference championships at the end of the season."
Meanwhile, the Whitman women’s squad will focus on holding its competitive standing within a tough conference, Blomme says. The Missionary women have placed third and fourth during the past two dual match seasons.
"The conference dual match season will be very competitive on the women’s side," she predicts. "The dual meet scoring between the top five or six teams is going to be tight. That competition will benefit all of the teams."
Conference teams kick off the swim season en masse this Friday evening when Lewis & Clark College hosts the annual NWC Sprint Penthathlon. The competition switches Saturday morning to Linfield College for the annual NWC Relay Meet.
The Missionaries then put their new pool to heavy use in November, hosting a series of four dual meets, three of them against conference schools. The long swim season concludes next February with the NWC Championships, which Whitman will host in its new facility.
Junior Nancy Alexander, the defending NWC champion in the 200-yard backstroke, is back to anchor a Missionary women’s team that returns plenty of firepower.
Alexander won her conference title with a flourish last February, beating her nearest rival by nearly two seconds and slicing more than one second off her school record. Her time met the conditional qualifying standard for the NCAA national championships. Once all times were compiled, however, her time wasn’t quite fast enough to land a berth at nationals.
"Nancy is using her disappointment from last year as positive motivation for this season," Blomme says. "She is already going very fast in the water. She has good competition from her teammates, which is great to have, and she’s ready to go for it."
In other results from last season’s NWC meet, Alexander placed third in the 100-yard backstroke and eighth in the 200-yard freestyle. She also holds the Whitman backstroke record for the 100-yard distance, and she shares two of Whitman’s school records in the relay events.
Erin Pettersen is another key member of Whitman’s strong junior class. At last year’s conference championships, Pettersen placed third in the 200-yard butterfly and fifth in the 100-yard butterfly. She holds the school records in both events, and she shares school records in three relay events.
"A lot of our swimmers are making an extra effort in the weight room this season, and Erin is one of them," Blomme says. "Erin is working very hard, looking for an edge outside of the pool, and I think it’s going to pay off for her."
In addition to the new Harvey Pool, the Baker Ferguson Fitness Center devotes about 10,000 square feet of space to a plethora of new fitness training equipment.
The Missionary women have a strong senior class paced by Alexis Krupp, Nora Feeney and Erica Sorensen. "It’s great to have such a strong leadership group in the senior class," Blomme says.
Krupp has competed among the NWC elite since her first season. In three championship meets, she has placed as high as third in the 400-yard individual medley, fourth in the 200-yard butterfly and fifth in the 200-yard individual medley.
In addition to sharing in two school records in the relays, Krupp ranks second all-time at Whitman in the 400-yard individual medley and third all-time in both the 200-yard individual medley and 200-yard butterfly.
"Alexis has been a big part of our program for four years now," Blomme says. "We’ve talked about what she wants out of this last season, and how she wants to look back on this season in future. I think Alexis is going to have a very successful year."
Despite studying abroad last fall, Feeney returned in time to place fifth in the 200-yard breaststroke, sixth in the 400-yard individual medley and seventh in the 100-yard backstroke at the NWC championships. In previous conference meets, she placed as high as third in both the breaststroke event and 1,650-yard freestyle.
"Nora is another of our seniors who has had a big impact on our program," Blomme says. "She is looking very fast in the breaststroke so far this fall. We’ll also use her this semester in the distance freestyle events, since we have two other distance freestylers who are studying abroad until December."
On Whitman’s lists of best times, Feeney ranks second in the 200-yard breaststroke, third in the 100-yard breaststroke, and fifth in both the 200-yard individual medley and 1,650-yard freestyle.
Sorenson also has been a consistent contributor at the conference championships each season. She made her best showings last year, placing 10th in the 200-yard individual medley and 11th in the 200-yard breaststroke.
"Erica has made major technical breakthroughs this fall that are making a big difference in her swimming," Blomme says. "I predict we’ll see from Erica this season what we hope to see in our seniors – refined and mature swimming."
Other seniors on the women’s roster are Erin Phillips, Lisa Doane and Danielle Alvarado. All three missed the NWC championships last season while studying abroad. Of the three, Phillips has scored the most points in the conference championships, placing 14th in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 16th in the 500-yard freestyle at the end of her first season.
Blomme is missing two of her top juniors, Mara Abbott and Elizabeth Roberson, for the first half of this season. Both are studying this semester in Mexico.
Abbott placed fourth and fifth in the 1,650-yard freestyle at each of the past two conference championship meets. She also placed as high as ninth in the 500-yard freestyle and 12th in both the 200-yard backstroke and 400-yard individual medley. She ranks fourth all-time at Whitman in the 1,650-yard freestyle and ninth at the 500-yard distance.
Roberson also scored plenty of points at the last two conference meets, placing as high as ninth in the 100-yard freestyle, 10th in the 500-yard freestyle and 11th in the 200-yard freestyle.
"We’ll miss both Mara and Elizabeth in our early dual meets," Blomme says. "They both keep themselves in good shape, so hopefully they can make good contributions when they return in January."
Rhea Edelman, who rounds out the women’s junior class, has scored points at the last two conference meets. She was 16th in the 1,650-yard freestyle last year and 16th in the 200-yard breaststroke two years ago. "Rhea emerged last year as one of our better distance freestyle swimmers,” Blomme says.
Courtney Fitzpatrick, the only sophomore on the women’s roster, made an immediate impact last season. Competing at the conference championships, she was seventh in the 100-yard butterfly, 10th in the 50-yard freestyle and 11th in the 200-yard butterfly.
"Courtney was involved in a weight-lifting camp this past summer, so she came back to us much stronger than in the past," Blomme says. "The work she did this summer, combined with the added emphasis we’ve placed on weight training this fall, will benefit Courtney a lot. The butterfly is her best event, but she’s also quite a sprinter."
Fitzpatrick has already moved into Whitman’s all-time top 10 lists in three events. She is fifth in the 100-yard butterfly, eighth in the 50-yard freestyle and ninth in the 200-yard butterfly.
The women’s roster has four first-year swimmers. The best of the bunch might be Chelsea Klinger (Murietta, Calif.), who will concentrate on the freestyle races (up through 500 yards) and the individual medley events. "Chelsea is a strong freestyler, and all of her strokes are good," Blomme says.
Kendi Thomas, a first-year competitor from Greencastle, Ind., should make solid contributions in the distance freestyle events, Blomme says.
The other two first-year swimmers, Sidney Kohls (Oakland, Calif.) and Jessie Neill (Boise, Idaho), start their college careers with less swimming experience, but are making great strides already.
Sophomores Ysbrand Nusse and Justin Hampton, along with junior Clint Collier, are the most accomplished veterans on the men’s team. Joining that trio are senior Robert Street, sophomore Max Hennings and a solid group of six freshmen.
Nusse made a strong impression at his first NWC championship meet, finishing second in the 400-yard individual medley, third in the 200-yard backstroke and fifth in the 500-yard freestyle. He already ranks second all-time at Whitman in all three events.
"There were a lot of adjustments for Ysbrand to make last year as a freshman swimmer, and he did a good job with that," Blomme says. "He started feeling more comfortable by his second semester, and he’s starting his second season with a good understanding of what college swimming is all about. He looks very strong in the water already."
Hampton, who specializes in the butterfly, also emerged as one of the top competitors in the conference as a freshman. He placed third at the conference meet in both butterfly events at the NWC meet. He ranks third all-time at Whitman at 200 yards and fourth all-time at 100 yards.
"Justin also starts his second season with a much better comfort level with college swimming," Blomme says. "He will do well for us again this season. He already looks better in the water than he did last season."
Collier focuses on the breaststroke and individual medley events. In addition to placing sixth in the 400-yard individual medley at last year’s NWC championships, Collier was eighth and ninth in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events, respectively. He produced similar results at the 2005 meet.
"Clint is looking very good," Blomme says. "He’s taking extra time after practices to work on details. He’s very determined and focused right now. Clint is also one of those swimmers working especially hard in the weight room."
Collier ranks fourth all-time at Whitman in the 100-yard breaststroke and seventh in both the 200-yard breaststroke and 200-yard individual medley.
After missing last fall on foreign study, Street returned to place 11th in the 400-yard individual medley at the conference meet. He also placed 14th in the 500-yard freestyle and 16th in the 100-yard breaststroke. Two years ago, he placed 11th and 13th in the two medley races.
"Robert faces all the academic pressures and challenges that normally face Whitman seniors, but he’s working hard in the pool," Blomme says.
Hennings placed in two events at the NWC championships to cap his freshman season. He was 13th in the 200-yard butterfly and 16th in the 500-yard freestyle.
"Max dropped a lot of time last season," Blomme says. "He starts this season in much better shape. He’s much stronger."
David Lee, a freestyle sprinter from Eugene, Ore., figures to be the best of the freshmen on the men’s roster. "All of David’s strokes are good, but he is quite the sprinter, and that’s probably where we’ll focus in the beginning," Blomme says. "He’s been recovering from an ankle fracture this summer, and he’s feeling much better now. He could very well be our next Tucker Jackson."
Jackson graduated in the spring of 2001 after winning NWC titles in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events for the second time in three seasons. He still holds the Whitman school records in those events.
Blomme also expects strong contributions from Eric Molnar (Redmond, Wash.) and George Stanton (Mercer Island, Wash.). "Eric is very strong in the medley events, so he could eventually go in any number of directions," she says. "George will be strong in the sprint and backstroke events."
Rounding out the freshman class are Nick Hurlburt (Walla Walla, Wash.) in the breaststroke events, Jeffrey Anderson (Hillsboro, Ore.) in the backstroke and distance events, and Kevin McCoy (Seattle) in the freestyle events.
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information,
(509) 527-5902; email@example.com