SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth will open the 2012-13 swimming season this weekend in Oregon and hopes are high that it will be another strong year for the Pirates.
The Whitworth men return 15 swimmers from last season's Northwest Conference championship team, the tenth in a row for the Bucs, while the Pirate women return 13 swimmers.
The teams have been training for nearly a month heading into this weekend's traditional conference openers. For more information on this weekend's meets, please see below.
Men's Outlook -
Of the 15 returnees for the Pirates, 13 of those competed in at least one Northwest Conference championship final heat last year. With the addition of eight incoming freshmen, this year's team looks as deep as any ever at Whitworth.
However that depth will become necessary as the season winds on. Whitworth graduated Rory Buck, the most dominant individual swimmer in the school's history. And for the first time in recent memory, the Pirates do not have an individual NWC champion returning from the previous season.
"Graduating a swimmer like Rory Buck presents several key challenges," said Pirate head coach Steve Schadt, who is in his 10th year. "We'll have to change our strategy a bit when putting together line-ups and relays without him in the mix, but I think we're up for the challenge."
As they have been for many years, the Bucs will be deep in all the freestyle events. Aaron Vaccaro and Nathan Ranno, who both competed at the NCAA Division III Championships last season, will headline the sprint freestyle corps, along with Matt Brody and Callum MacKintosh. Vaccaro was NWC runner-up in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, while Ranno scored highly in the 50, 100 and 200-yard freestyles.
Oliver Durand is Whitworth's mainstay in the middle-distance and distance freestyle events after he finished send in both the 200 and 1,650 and fourth in the 500-yard freestyle at the NWC meet last season. Mitchell Beck and Luke Welle also scored highly in the middle-distance and distance events at the conference championships.
The biggest hole to fill in the event order will be in breaststroke, where Buck was a four-time NCAA Division III champion. But that may be where the incoming class of first-year swimmers, led by Kyle Wicks, Lucas Linn, Trevor Case, and Matt Watkins, can have the biggest impact.
Schadt is confident in the overall quality and commitment of the men's team.
"We have a lot of talented guys who I think can do a great job for us and everyone is excited for the season ahead," he said. "We have a very balanced men's squad this year without many weaknesses and there is a lot of potential on this team."
For Whitworth to claim an 11th straight NWC crown, the Pirates will have to hold off rapidly-improving Whitman and Pacific Lutheran, along with always-talented Puget Sound.
Women's Outlook -
Whitworth finished second in the NWC last season after claiming NWC championships in 2010 and 2011. The Pirates return 13 swimmers from last year, including eight who were championship finalists in at least one event.
Unlike the men, the Whitworth women have two individual Northwest Conference champions back from last season. Kate Duvall won the 100 backstroke and defended her title in the 200-yard backstroke. And speaking of defending titles, Abby Pavelko has a chance to become a four-time individual winner in the 400-yard individual medley.
"With experience comes confidence and belief in what is possible and our upperclassmen have done a great job leading our women so far and getting people to believe in what they are capable of," Schadt said. "We did not graduate a lot of female swimmers last year and so we have a lot of experience and point potential up and down our entire line-up."
The great strength of the women's team this season appears to be versatility. Of the returning scorers, nearly all were championship finalists in more than one stroke or type of event. In addition to winning both backstroke events, Duvall was runner-up in the 500 free. Pavelko was runner-up in the 1,650 free and third in the 500.
Other examples include Melissa Barringer, who was runner-up in the 100-yard breaststroke and scored highly in the 50 free. Samantha Smith was NWC runner-up in the 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard I.M. and also scored in the 100-yard breaststroke.
About the only Pirate women to focus on one area was Alisa Stang, who finished as NWC runner-up in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles and was fourth in the 200 free.
"Our women's team is going to be very strong in virtually all of the freestyle events this year and we've made some key improvements in the butterfly and breaststroke events," Schadt said. "Three key freshmen will add pop to the line-up in the freestyle events as well as a number of other races."
Schadt cites Hannah Norris in the sprint freestyle and breaststrokes, Korey Carpenter in the sprint & middle distance free events and Bridget Louis in the distance free events as well as in the I.M.'s and fly events as three first-year swimmers who will have a strong impact on the women's team.
To return to the top of the NWC standings the Pirates will have to unseat defending champion Puget Sound and hold off hard-charging Whitman.
This weekend -
The season officially opens with the NWC Spring Pentathlon, which will be hosted this season by Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon on Saturday. The meet features only five events: 50-yard sprints of each of the four strokes along with a 100-yard individual medley. There are no team scores, but individuals are ranked on cumulative times in all five events.
The NWC relay meet will be on Sunday at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. The meet features a variety of unconventional relay events which are not held at any other time during the season.
The Pirates will open the dual meet season at home the following weekend against Willamette and Linfield. The Willamette dual will be Friday, Nov. 2, at 6:00 pm, while the Linfield dual will be Saturday, Nov. 3, at 1:00 pm. The Whitworth men have won 84 NWC dual meets in a row, while the women have won 41 straight conference duals.