WALLA WALLA, Wash. – With nearly 50 athletes on her season-opening rosters, coach Jenn Blomme expects to see her Whitman College swimmers send plenty of ripples through Northwest Conference waters this winter.

“This could be the best team, men and women, that we’ve had in my time here,” Blomme says as she launches her 10th season at Whitman. “This is certainly the greatest depth we’ve ever had.

       Jenn Blomme

“We’re very balanced with about two dozen swimmers on the women’s roster and the same number on the men’s side,” she adds. “We have a lot of young swimmers and a lot of talent up and down the rosters.

Some questions linger as the coaching staff decides how to split different swimmers between the shorter and longer distances. Other than that, Blomme says, “we have all four strokes covered.

“We have strong medley relay squads for both the men and women, and we have swimmers who are strong in the individual medley events. We’ve got a good group, a really good group.”

A year ago, the Whitman men’s team enjoyed its best season in two decades, piling up 561 points to place third at the NWC Championships. Two key contributors on that team, Ysbrand Nusse and Noel Sollom-Brotherton graduated last spring, but Blomme sees enough new and returning talent to offset those losses.

“There is no reason why the men’s team can't be just as strong, if not stronger, as a year ago,” she says.

After losing standouts Nancy Alexander, Erin Pettersen, Ellen McCleery and Elizabeth Roberson to graduation two years ago, the Whitman women’s team slipped a rung last winter, placing fourth at the NWC championships.

An influx of 12 first-year swimmers has added significant pop to the women’s squad this year, Blomme says. “Our women’s team is definitely stronger and more talented than a year ago, and maybe even two years ago. If you could somehow match this year’s roster against our roster when Nancy, Erin, Ellen and Elizabeth were seniors, it would be a good battle.”

The Missionary men’s team has its own youth movement with seven freshmen in the fold.

“The young talent we have on both teams is exciting for us, and not just for this season,” Blomme says. “The number of first- and second-year swimmers that we have in program means that we have a really nice foundation in place for the future.”

The Whitman teams flexed a few early season muscles three weeks ago when they dunked College of Idaho by wide margins in non-conference dual meets.

The season starts in earnest this weekend when the Missionaries host a pair of NWC dual meets, starting with Linfield at 5 p.m. Friday in the Louise and Paul Harvey Pool at BakerFerguson Fitness Center. Pacific provides the competition at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Whitman Men’s Team

The men’s squad has just three seniors on its roster, but one of three, Eric Molnar, ranks as one of the top swimmers in the conference.

        Eric Molnar

Molnar made a huge splash as a sophomore, when he won the 400-yard individual medley (IM) title at the conference championships while also placing third and seventh in the two butterfly events.

After missing the first half of last season while studying abroad, Molnar returned in January and made a big impact six weeks later at the NWC championships, placing second in the 200-yard IM, third in the 200-yard butterfly and fourth in the 400-yard IM.

“Eric had a great season despite the shortened training time after he came back from studying abroad,” Blomme says. “With a full year of training behind him, he’s going to have a very strong senior season.”

A second senior, Nick Hurlburt, is serving as one of the team captains and will focus on freestyle and breaststroke events, Blomme says. “He’s struggled with injuries all four years, but over the course of time he’s matured and learned how to respond to those kind of challenges.

“Nick is doing well as both a captain and with his own swimming. He’s done a lot of weight lifting and preventative care so that he’s coming into the season in great condition. He’s going to have a good season also.”

         Jamie Nusse

Kevin McCoy, a third senior and freestyler, is “already swimming good times to start the season, and he’ll continue to improve over the next several weeks,” Blomme says. “He’s come a long way in his years at Whitman.”

Jamie Nusse, the top swimmer in the junior class, is the school record holder in the 500-yard freestyle, and he shares in four of Whitman’s five relay records. At last year’s championships, he was second in the 200-yard freestyle, fourth in the 500-yard freestyle and fifth in the 100-yard freestyle.

“Jamie looks great in the water to the start the season,” Blomme says. “One of his strengths is that he has a very competitive attitude.”

Nick Wood, a second team captain, is a junior breaststroker who also swims the IM events. 

“Nick also is doing a tremendous job as a captain,” Blomme says. “He’s helping provide great leadership for all of our new swimmers. He also looks very strong and very focused in the pool.”

           Nick Wood

A year ago at the conference meet, Wood was seventh in the 400-yard IM, ninth in the 200-yard breaststroke and 13th in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Three more juniors, Chad Trexler, Brian Wakefield and Nate Wells, are bouncing back from health woes. Trexler and Wells spent good parts of last summer battling illness while Wakefield spent those months mending from a collarbone broke in four places. 

“Brian was in a bicycle accident last spring, but he’s coming back better in better shape than either of us expected,” Blomme says. “Both Chad and Nate are kind of struggling right now to recover from their illnesses and stay healthy.”

Trexler made a tremendous showing at the NWC championships last season, placing third in the 200-yard breaststroke while annihilating Whitman's school record. He also placed eighth in the 400-yard IM and 12th in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Wakefield made his best showing at the championships in the 200-yard breaststroke, placing 12th. Meanwhile, Wells posted a 12th-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly.

         Chad Trexler

Jeff Sterritt (butterfly, freestyle) and Eliot Stone (freestyle) are two more juniors on the roster.

Stone placed 14th at conference in the 1,650-yard freestyle last season, and “he’s still capable of making some awesome improvements if he puts his mind to it,” Blomme says. “I hope that’s what happens.”

“We had so many swimmers last year that Jeff wasn’t able to compete in the conference meet, but he continues to be a strong depth swimmer for us,” Blomme says. “His challenge this season is to work his way up our depth chart.”

Distance freestyler Chris Bendix and sprinter Mitchell Lee lead a strong sophomore class.

          Chris Bendix

Bendix, already Whitman's record holder at the 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events, placed third at the longer distance at his first NWC championship meet. He was eighth in the 500-yard freestyle and ninth in the 400 IM.

Kevin Dyer, one of our freshmen this year, will challenge Chris this season, but that competition will help motivate both of them,” Blomme says. “Without really knowing what other teams might have, we are optimistic that Chris and Kevin can compete at the highest levels of our conference in the freestyle distance events.”

Lee got off to a slow start last season due to a broken wrist that kept him out of the water for most of the fall. “Mitchell looks better than ever,” Blomme says. “He’s physically strong and mentally focused. He has already posted a great time in the 50 free. I think he’s going to have a great season.”

Despite his abbreviated season, Lee finished ninth in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races at the championship meet. He also was ninth in the 100-yard breaststroke.

        Mitchell Lee

Blomme looks for sophomores Matt Liedtke and Matt Rowett to give Whitman a solid one-two punch in the butterfly events.

She describes Liedtke as “one of those quiet pillars who helps hold our program up. He works hard every day and it pays off. He’s starting out much faster than he was at the beginning of last season, and he did well as a freshman. We expect more good things from him.”

Rowett was slowed by injuries in his first season. “Those are chronic physical problems for him, but he’s managing them better this fall,” Blomme says. “His key is stay as healthy as possible.”

At last year’s championships, Liedtke placed sixth and 10th in the two butterfly events. Rowett was close behind, placing ninth and 13th.

Ian Williams, also a sophomore, came into last season “not as experienced as the others, but he improved a ton as the season went along,” Blomme said. “He earned one of our last spots at conference and did a great job.”

Williams made his best showing at conference in the 1,650-yard freestyle, placing 12th.

Dyer tops the freshman class and has the potential, along with Bendix, to win a conference title in the 1,650-yard freestyle. “Kevin has a ton of talent, so the sky is the limit for him,” Blomme says.

        Kevin Dyer

Dyer won both the 500-yard and 1,000-yard freestyle events in last month’s dual meet with College of Idaho.

Freshmen Paul Chang, Joey Gottlieb and Brett Clark already show the potential to qualify for championship heats (top eight) at the conference finals, Blomme says. All three swim backstroke events while Chang and Gottlieb are freestylers and Clark is a butterflier.

Coleman Metzler (freestyle) and Andrew Roehring (freestyle, backstroke) were “strong high school swimmers who didn’t do a lot of year-around swimming,” Blomme says. “They have the potential to make some very big improvements.”

Adam Brayton, a freshman freestyle sprinter, is “still something of a wild card,” Blomme says. “He’s got a lot of heart, and as his technique develops he can really help our team and its depth.”

Freshman Tyler Hurlburt (freestyle, butterfly) has an “awesome attitude and is willing to face any challenge,” Blomme said. “He’s going to add to our depth in his events and will improve a lot.”

Whitman Women’s Team

The Missionary women’s team also has just three seniors in Chelsea Klinger (freestyle, IM) Sidney Kohls (freestyle) and Jessie Neill (freestyle, butterfly).

Kohls is back for her second year as a team captain and “already swimming some of her best-ever times,” Blomme says. “Sidney has some renewed enthusiasm and is going to have a great season.”

       Chelsea Klinger

Klinger has been scoring points for Whitman at the conference finals from her first year forward. She has placed as high as fifth in the 400 IM and eighth in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

Klinger was slowed late in October when she was accidentally kicked in the head during practice. “She suffered a concussion and has been struggling a little bit, but Chelsea is a strong athlete and will come out of this just fine.”

         Sidney Kohls

Lauren Flynn, a junior and two-year captain, is arguably the best returning swimmer for the Whitman women.

She placed third in the 100-yard freestyle at last year’s NWC meet and was fourth in the freestyle races at 50 and 200 yards. She holds the school record in the two shortest freestyle events.

“Lauren looks wonderful in the water to start the season,” Blomme says. “She also has some first-year teammates who can really push her this season. That competition within the team is going to benefit everyone.”

Other returning juniors are Kate Pringle (freestyle, backstroke) and Ali Schuelter (freestyle).

“Kate continues to battle injuries, but we’re hopeful she can he healthy enough to make good contributions,” Blomme says. “Ali is studying in Germany right now and will join us in January.”

         Jessie Neill

Natalie Reilly, a junior transfer, is making a return to competitive swimming after a two-year hiatus. “She’s been out of the water for two years, but her earlier times are very much school record possibilities here at Whitman,” Blomme says. “It’s just a matter of whether she can get back to where she once was. The progress I’ve seen in the past month leads me to believe she can.”

Monica Boshart, who tops a handful of sophomores, enjoyed an “amazing first season” in the breaststroke, Blomme says. “She made remarkable improvements during the season, and she’s starting off much faster than she was at this time a year ago. We expect more good things from her.”

Boshart finished seventh and eighth in the breaststroke events at last year’s NWC meet.

Sophomore Alyssa Bader battled injuries to place 15th at the championships in the 200-yard breaststroke. “We’re doing different things with her training to try to keep her healthy,” Blomme said. “When she’s healthy, she has some real talent in the breaststroke.”

         Lauren Flynn

Katie Tackman, another sophomore, made “great improvements last year and will continue to get stronger and faster,” Blomme says. She placed 13th in the 1,650-yard freestyle at last year’s championships.

Other sophomores are Sylvie Luiten, who Blomme expects to contribute in the butterfly events, and Lena Page, who is bouncing back from an illness-plagued first season. “Lena did a lot of work this summer to get stronger, so she’s starting off healthy and strong,” Blomme says. “She’s in a good position.”

While there is talent and experience in the upper three classes, the real strength of the women’s team might come from its first-year swimmers.

Katie Chapman and Charlotte Graham are the best of the freshmen women.

“Charlotte is awesome in the freestyle sprints and a strong backstroker as well,” Blomme says. “Katie is very strong in the butterfly and is already taking aim at our school records.”

      Katie Chapman

Libby Arnosti looks to make her mark in the backstroke. “Libby isn’t quite ready to challenge school records in the backstroke, but she could get there,” Blomme says. “She’s very competitive and a very smart swimmer.”

Blomme also has high hopes for a Rebecca Ryle, who is “very good in the breaststroke,” and Helen Jenne, a freestyle sprinter.

     Charlotte Graham

“Helen has extremely quick strokes and a lot of heart. It’ll be interesting to see how her stroke and technique develop. She’s very strong physically and very excited about Whitman and our swim team. She will improve a lot.”

Cari Cortez adds more talent in the breaststroke. “Cari doesn’t have the training background of some of the other swimmers, and she has a few injury problems,” Blomme says. “She has good potential, though, and we look forward to her development. She swam a strong early time in the College of Idaho meet.”

The other first-year swimmers are Sara Behrens (freestyle), who is coming off shoulder surgery, and Hensley Fradkin, who has the “potential to improve quite a bit” in the backstroke,” Blomme says.

Erin Kiskaddon (freestyle) and Megan Vermilion (backstroke, breaststroke) round out the first-year class.

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu