Swimming Caps Off Season at NWC Championships

Tristan Gavin

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Whitman’s men’s and women’s swimming teams finished second and third, respectively, to wrap up their season this weekend at the Northwest Conference Championships. Although the men and women finished in the same places as last year, the attitude leaving the meet was very different.

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NWC Championship photos contributed by Rachael Barton.

“The performances this weekend were amazing on both sides of the fence, men and women,” said senior Kevin Dyer.

Whitman’s men and women came away from a long weekend of swimming with a lot to be positive about. In total, the teams broke 20 school records and had many individuals rise to the occasion. The event wrapped up a successful season for each team, and four individuals qualified for the chance to continue at the national level.

The men fell short of taking down Whitworth again, after breaking Whitworth’s 90-meet winning streak in a dual meet just two weeks prior to the Northwest Conference Championships. The team’s rivalry with Whitworth highlights the growth of the program in the last couple of years.

“The bottom of the conference is starting to get a little bit better, and the top end has just gone absolutely crazy,” said Assistant Coach Chris Bendix ’12, reflecting on the development of the conference swim programs over the last five years.

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The men may not have been able to pull off the upset of Whitworth that they had hoped for, but the Whitman program’s growth was very evident from their individual performances. The men netted a total of 10 wins, including seven individual conference titles. Every record on the men’s record board is now held by current swimmers, most of whom will be returning for another run at the Conference title in the fall.

Sophomore Karl Mering set school records en route to first-place finishes in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyles, as well as the 100-meter butterfly. Mering also swam on freestyle and medley relay teams that set meet records. All three of his individual performances placed first at the Championships and qualified with provisional nationals cuts for the NCAA Division III National Competition. Mering was recognized as the meet’s Most Outstanding Male Swimmer for his successes, an award teammate Galen Sollom-Brotherton won last year.

Sollom-Brotherton won and qualified with provisional times in each of his individual meets this year and joined Mering on the relay teams that also qualified.

“Between the national cuts, meet records and even conference records, I think our performance really stood out,” said first-year Robby Dorn, who competed in both breaststroke events and the mile.

web-contributedRachaelBarton-swim-IMG_5893After various setbacks during the season, the women’s team also put up some incredible performances.

“Our women this year had probably their best finish since I’ve been part of the program,” said Bendix.

The women’s team was eyeing a second-place finish, but fell to third by a margin of just four points. While the end result may have been a disappointing cap to an amazing season, the women had a lot to be proud of looking back.

“Even though people could focus on the fact that we lost by four points, that doesn’t take into account how amazing it was that we actually did end up getting third place by such a close margin,” said junior Claire Collins, a breaststroker who took first place in the 200 Individual Medley.

Collins was the only woman to win an individual event, but she and senior Genay Pilarowski both qualified with provisional national cuts that may get one or both invited to the NCAA Division III Nationals in March.

First-year Elise Tinseth wrote her name into the record books by breaking a 19-year-old 400 IM record; fellow-first-year Cameo Hlebasko broke a 200-yard backstroke record set in 2006 on the way to taking second place in the event.

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Competitive successes aside, for the swimmers the championship meet only reinforced the love and support for each other that they had developed over the course of the year.

“What I always find most impressive is simply how much we come together as a family,” said Dyer. “I don’t think any other team in the conference shares quite the bond that we have.”

Dorn emphasized that this closeness shaped his experience of his first championship meet.

“One of my favorite things about the weekend was definitely the team atmosphere that surrounded us. Wearing costumes, paint, waving flags and ultimately losing our voices to push our swimmers to get to the wall really showed how much we were invested in each other’s races,” said Dorn.

Collins highlighted the team’s unique ability to use this positive team energy to drive success in the pool.

“We have this ability to still have fun and then once we get in that pool we swim super fast. And that’s kind of intimidating … that we can do that,” said Collins. “I think that’s what sets us apart.”

 

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The mood walking away was that the team gave everything to their weekend.

“Between the cheering and the swimming, we just proved over and over again that we put in the most and we worked the hardest and we want the most out of all of our teammates,” added Bendix.

As the competition came to a close Sunday, so, too, did most swimmers’ seasons. Mering, the only swimmer to achieve a time that automatically qualified him for nationals, will be training for the next five weeks with his teammates hoping to be invited to the competition.

As Dyer sets aside his goggles in official collegiate retirement, he reflects on the last meet of his college career.

“It’s exhausting, looking back at it, but so incredible while it’s going on.”

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The event was the last meet each team will compete in as a group until next fall, when 14 graduating seniors will be replaced by new faces. As select individuals take their talents to a national stage, the rest of the team can only continue to cheer their teammates on as they look ahead to the 2013-2014 season.

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“It’s going to be fine physically, swimming for six more weeks, but mentally it’s going to be hard. I think I’m going to have to rely on my teammates more than I have had to in the past,” said Collins, who is preparing for a potential bid at nationals.

This season’s successes for the program and for individuals give the team a lot to look forward to in the coming years. As they did with this year’s first-years, they will look to instill the competitive fire in the new class of swimmers arriving next fall.

“I feel like from the support and guidance the upperclassmen have shown the first-years, the [first-year] class will be able to welcome next year’s class in the same way,” said Dorn.