Thursday, May 8, 2008

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Erin Pettersen, the first-ever Whitman College swimmer to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Championships, is the 2008 winner of the Mignon Borleske Trophy, which is presented annually to the top female athlete on campus.

The trophy, which is awarded by a vote of the Whitman coaching staff, recognizes athletic ability and accomplishments, leadership and sportsmanship qualities, and contributions to the campus as a whole.

Pettersen, a butterfly specialist from Kirkland, Wash., was one of only seven women in the Northwest Conference to qualify for the national swimming championships in March. She earned her spot at nationals by posting a strong provisional time (2:07.71) while placing second in the 200-yard butterfly at the NWC Championships. That time obliterated her school record by more than three seconds and sent her to nationals as the 10th seed in that event.

Pettersen, a two-year team captain at Whitman, also posted a national provisional time (58.16) while placing second in the 100-yard butterfly at the conference championships. That time lowered by school record by nearly two seconds.

Pettersen swam in three events at the national championships, placing 18th and 24th in the butterfly races. "The NCAA nationals are incredibly competitive," Whitman coach Jenn Blomme says. "It is a huge accomplishment just to make it to the national meet. The Northwest Conference is very strong nationally and yet we still only send a handful of conference swimmers to the national championships every year."

Hard work, pure and simple, is what made Pettersen the first Whitman swimmer to qualify for the national meet, Blomme says. "Erin has always been one of the hardest workers on the team, but this year she raised the bar even higher," Blomme says. "She brought more discipline, more intensity and more enthusiasm to every practice. She really fulfilled our goal of making the most of every practice opportunity, every race and every meet. She came into this season stronger mentally than I have ever seen her."

"As a senior and captain, Erin has been a great example to her teammates about what it takes to achieve this type of success," Blomme adds. "Given that Whitman hasn’t competed at the national level since we were in the NAIA (in the mid-1990s), her accomplishments this year show the rest of our team what is possible."

Pettersen just missed claiming a third Whitman school record in her final trip to the conference championships. She placed fourth in the 50-yard freestyle in 25.04, but she also swam a career-best 24.95 on the opening leg of Whitman's 200-yard freestyle relay. That time left her in second-place all-time at Whitman for the 50 freestyle -- less than two-tenths of a second off a school record set in 1991.

Pettersen, described by Blomme as a "hugely positive influence" on the swim team, first set the Whitman school record in the 200-yard butterfly at the end of her first season. She has held the 100-yard butterfly record since her sophomore year. She also shares the school relay records in the 200-yard freestyle, 200-yard medley and 400-yard medley.

Pettersen, a graduate of Seattle's Lakeside School, is the daughter of Marcia and Palmer Pettersen (Kirland, Wash.).

The Mignon Borleske Trophy honors a woman who first came to Whitman in 1915 as the young spouse of Raymond V. Borleske, a sports legend in the making. Her husband, who had starred as a football and baseball player at Whitman, was embarking at the time on a long coaching career at his alma mater. Mignon Borleske taught dance and women's education classes at Whitman for nearly four decades.