The Whitman swimming record board has never been shattered with such ruthlessness. Last weekend at the season-end Northwest Conference Championship meet, an unprecedented 25 records fell to this year’s talented batch of swimmers. The men and women raced their way through the three-day meet to round off the most successful season Whitman swimming has ever seen. The men and women finished second and third, respectively, in the Northwest Conference.
Among the accolades taken home by the team were four NCAA nationals cuts, two NWC records, two meet records, Men’s Swimmer of the Year and Men’s Coach of the Year.
“The meet this weekend was nothing short of epic. Literally it was quite possibly the best meet I have ever been to in my life,” said Assistant Coach Kevin Howard, a three-time record holder at his alma mater, Rochester University. “You always know that people are going to swim fast at a Conference meet, but there is no way to predict this.”
Of the 38 total events on the Whitman swimming record board, two-thirds were shattered at this meet alone. Including the three more that were broken last fall, over 70 percent of the fastest swims in Whitman history have occurred within the last six months.
“This is an amazing achievement by any program, but given the strength of our record board already it is truly something special,” said Howard, a new addition to Whitman’s coaching staff this year.
Head Coach Jenn Blomme collected her third consecutive Coach of the Year award this season for her efforts, her fifth since coming to Whitman in 2000. Junior Galen Sollom-Brotherton won the NW Conference Men’s Swimmer of the Year for being the individual point leader at the meet. He also set two new Conference and meet records and earned Whitman’s only NCAA nationals automatic qualifying time in the 1,650 yard freestyle.
Both men and women completed their regular season with 5-1 records in the Northwest Conference, losing only to Whitworth University in dual meets. The program has been climbing quickly towards the top of the NWC since Blomme took the helm 11 years ago.
“It’s absolutely incredible to see where the program has come over the course of the past few years,” said alumnus swim team captain and current Admissions Officer Robert Street ’07. “Year by year our team has grown both in numbers and talent. It’s hard to believe a team with only five men on the roster nine years ago is now second in the Conference.”
The men finished second in the NW Conference for the first time in Whitman history with 572 points, trailing only powerhouse Whitworth University’s 796. The Whitman women placed third with 506 points, matching the highest ranking the women’s team has ever gotten; Puget Sound took first place for the women with 623 points, just 17 ahead of second-place Whitworth.
Aside from the statistical achievements made this season, members of the team point to the uncommonly close bond they share as the key ingredient that motivated them throughout the season and during the Conference Championships.
“We’ve always been close, but this season was even more so. People think of swimming as an individual sport but it’s just not at all: at least not on this team,” said junior sprint freestyler Helen Jenne, who smashed both the 50 and 100 free records this season, and participated in all five record-setting relays.
The Whitman swimmers emphasized this point at last weekend’s meet, where they made their support for teammates evident.
“There were tons of people behind the blocks yelling, waving flags and jumping up and down during nearly every race. No other teams came close. I feel extraordinarily proud to be part of a team that is so supportive,” said sophomore Keller Hawkins, a record holder in the 100 yard backstroke.
Matt Liedtke, a senior butterfly specialist, described his last swim of his college career.
“Finishing my 100 fly, I touched the wall not sure of what to expect, and the first thing I heard was the roar of cheering from my teammates.”
The men’s 800 freestyle relay team, made up of Sollom-Brotherton, senior Mitchell Lee and first-year Kevin O’Leary and Karl Mering, swam a provisional NCAA nationals cut time. They will continue training as they wait to hear if they are selected for the meet, to be held in Indianapolis from March 21-24.