SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth swimming teams are headed to Federal Way, Washington this week for the 2012 Northwest Conference Championships at the King County Aquatic Center. Events get underway on Friday morning and will conclude on Sunday evening.
The Whitworth men are considered strong favorites to win their 10th consecutive NWC championships. The Pirates return 16 men who scored at last season's championship meet, 14 of whom reached a championship final in at least one event. Rory Buck (100 and 200 Breaststrokes), Aaron Vaccaro (50 Free and 100 Fly) and Austin Vierra (500 and 1,650 Freestyles) are defending NWC champions, while Oliver Durand, Nathan Ranno and Luke Welle all finished among the top three in at least one individual event.
The Whitworth men also won all five relays last season, helping the Pirates claim the largest margin of victory (337 points) in the history of the NWC Swimming Championships.
Buck (100 and 200 Breaststrokes), Durand (200 Breaststroke, 200 and 500 Freestyle), Vaccaro (50 and 100 Free, 100 Back, 100 Fly) and Vierra (200, 500 and 1,650 Free) are all ranked among the top three in at least one individual event this season. That group of four is joined by Andrew Sumnicht (200 and 400 Individual Medley) and first-year Wesley Walton (200 and 400 I.M., 100 and 200 Back).
Whitworth has the fastest time coming into the meet in only the 200 and 400 medley relays.
"We are set up to do well again in the men's meet," said Whitworth head coach Steve Schadt. "But I have no expectation of a repeat of last season's score. Puget Sound returns three national caliber swimmers from last year and Whitman and Pacific Lutheran are vastly improved – both in terms of top-level swimmers and depth. Overall the conference is much stronger."
The Pirate women were hit much harder by graduation following last season's 138-point victory, their second straight and third in the previous four years. But all seven returnees who scored at last season's NWC meet reached at least one championship final.
Kate Duvall (500 Freestyle and 200 Backstroke) and Abby Pavelko (400 I.M. and 1,650 Freestyle) each won a pair of individual events last season. Jennifer Benson scored highly in all three of her individual events and was the only Pirate woman on all four conference championship relays.
Those three swimmers, along with Melissa Barringer in the 100 and 200 Breaststroke, are ranked highly in their individual events this season. They are joined by first-year Pirates who could have a major impact on this year's championship meet. Nicole Lecoq is the conference's leader so far this year in the 200 Freestyle and is ranked highly in both backstroke distances. Samantha Smith has the NWC's best time in the 100 Butterfly and is highly ranked in the 200 I.M. Alisa Stang is ranked among the top three in the 50, 100 and 200 Freestyles.
Like the men, the women will be pushed hard by Puget Sound and Whitman in the race for a team title, while much-improved Pacific and PLU will also score many points.
"I am excited to see what this combination of experience and new talent will do at this meet," Schadt said. "The women have a chance to post some really fast times and if we swim well we can pull of another championship."