Swimmers hone technique, express enthusiasm as season opens

Matt Manley

The swim team practices in preparation for the November 20-21 Northwest Invitational. Whitman hopes to make a strong showing at the mid-season meet, establishing themselves as a contender for one of the top spots in the conference. Photo Credit: Zach Rosenberg

Talk to a swimmer about their team’s nascent 2010-11 season, and one word is bound to come up.

“The team is focused on dedication this season: dedication to each other as teammates, dedication to our competition, dedication to our training,” senior captain Lauren Flynn said.

Apparently, that dedication is already paying off. Led by eleventh-year coach Jenn Blomme, the men’s and women’s squads are 2-0 and 1-1 respectively in dual meets and look competitive to take second on Oct. 30 in the Northwest Conference Relay Invitational. The Missionaries also had four men’s and four women’s top-25 individual finishers at the Northwest Conference Sprint Pentathlon on Oct. 29.

Blomme, too, is encouraged by the teams’ early successes.

“We are a much stronger team than we were a year ago. At the same time, so are the teams we are competing against. It makes comparing win-loss records from year to year imprecise, but it’s extremely exciting to have close meets and races,” she said.

These early results, and the efforts of the team in training thus far, have senior captain Alison Schlueter excited about the potential of her team.

“As a senior, it’s been really amazing to watch the trajectory of this team, and I’m just so excited to see what we can accomplish this year,” Schlueter said.

Last year at the Northwest Conference Championships the men’s team took third place (6-1 NWC), four points from second-place finishers Puget Sound. The women’s squad finished fourth (5-2 NWC) behind Lewis & Clark, beat out by a heartbreaking one-point margin. According to senior James Nusse, a captain and last year’s team MVP, the narrow margins have showed the Missionary swimmers what is within reach this year.

“[Last year’s results] demonstrated to us the strength of our program and inspired us to take the next step forward. We took it upon ourselves to get in shape physically and mentally before the opening of our season,” Nusse said.

Blomme highlighted technique work as the foundation for the team’s success this year.

[Technique problems] are often issues coaches focus on towards the end of the season, when habits are so ingrained that it’s hard to make major changes. Taking the opposite approach is going pay off more and more as the season continues and will absolutely be our strongest asset during championship season,” she said

According to Nusse, this focus on fine-tuning technique is critical to their overall efforts in the NWC this season and will continue to yield benefits through the season-ending NWC championship meet on February 25.

“Our emphasis on technique has us poised to accomplish new things this season. It means that when we get to the end of the season, we will be able to focus on our races, not our turns, because those will already be in place,” he said.

Perennial powers Whitworth and UPS, both of which finished ahead of Whitman last year, again look to be the teams to beat in this year’s NWC title race.

On the women’s side, Whitman returns top performers Flynn (freestyle, breaststroke), sophomore Charlotte Graham (freestyle, backstroke) and sophomore Katie Chapman (fly, freestyle). First-year Keller Hawkins, who has already earned the sixth-fastest 200-yard backstroke time in Whitman swimming history, leads a talented incoming class.

For the men, Nusse (freestyle, backstroke) leads a very deep returning group, including fellow senior captain Nick Wood (breaststroke, IM), junior Mitchell Lee (freestyle, breaststroke), junior Chris Bendix (freestyle) and sophomore Kevin Dyer (freestyle).

In the end, though, it all comes back to dedication to the team: in every facet of competition.

“Overall, our goal is always to do better than we did last year. This applies to everything. We want to have better technique, better walls, better breath control, better starts. We want to raise our team’s cumulative GPA,” Schlueter said. “We also want to be better teammates and we’ve been working a lot on what it means to be a good teammate.”

Next up for Whitman swimmers is the Northwest Invitational November 20-21 in Tacoma, Wash. In its first home meet, Whitman will host Linfield January14 at the Louise and Paul Harvey Pool.