SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth swimming teams are ready to dive into the 2013 Northwest Conference championships this week, and head coach Steve Schadt feels his squads are ready to post fast performances.
"Our swimmers have been flying around the pool this week and look really good in the water," said Schadt, in his 10th season leading the Pirates. "I think we are well-rested and ready to go."
The meet will run Friday – Sunday (Feb. 8-10) at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington. Willamette University is the host school and is providing a championship meet web portal that will include live video, live results, photos, and interviews.
"The team works hard all year and prepares mainly to peak for this one competition and for NCAA's," Schadt said. "This meet represents the culmination of all the hard work and is a celebration for us. I can't wait to see our swimmers post some lifetime-best times in their events and enjoy the moment."
The Whitworth men are aiming for an 11th straight Northwest Conference championship, which would break the record for consecutive men's titles that the Pirates share with Pacific Lutheran (1969-78).
But it will not be easy. For the first time in more than a decade Whitworth does not return a single individual NWC champion to the meet. In addition, the Bucs saw their 90-meet NWC dual meet winning streak come to an end two weeks ago at Whitman. And the Missionaries also beat the Pirates in previous match-ups at the NWC Sprint Pentathlon and the Northwest Invitational last fall.
However, the NWC championship meet format is very different animal and the Whitworth men will bring an extensive amount of firepower into the contest. Twelve Pirate men come into the meet having scored highly at last year's championship and six first-year swimmers are poised to produce well in their first championship.
The veterans include Aaron Vaccaro, Wes Tatum, Andrew Sumnicht and Mitchell Beck, who all posted top-three individual finishes last year. Vaccaro was runner up in the 50 and 100 freestyles and was third in the 100 butterfly. He is the Pirates' top returning scorer, and the only man who has previously won an individual event. He won the 50 free and 100 fly as a freshman.
Tatum was third in the 200 butterfly and 4th in the 100 fly last year, while Sumnicht posted three third-place finishes a year ago – including both individual medley races. Beck finished third in the 200 freestyle, part of a 1-2-3-4-5 finish for the Whitworth men in that event.
Matt Brody (50, 100 and 200 freestyle), Donovan Brogan (100 and 200 fly), Jordan Fish (100 and 200 backstroke), Korey Kinney (200 and 400 I.M.), Jason Lemley (100 and 200 backstroke), Callum MacKintosh (100 and 200 freestyle), Nathan Ranno (100 and 200 freestyle) and Luke Welle (500 freestyle, 400 I.M.) were all championship finalists a year ago.
Rory Buck, the NWC record-holder in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events, has graduated. But three first-year swimmers give the Pirates strong depth in those two events. They are Trevor Case, Lucas Lin and Kyle Wicks.
Similarly, Whitworth will have to do without Oliver Durand, who has scored very highly in the distance freestyle races the last two seasons. Durand has struggled with a torn muscle all season and will not compete. But freshmen Ben Gustafson, Kevin Moore and Brandon Smith look ready to score well in the 500 and 1,650 freestyles.
In addition to overcoming the Whitman men, Whitworth will be challenged by Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran throughout the meet.
The Pirate women are hoping to return to the top of the NWC standings, a position they held in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Whitworth went unbeaten against Northwest Conference competition this season, finishing with an NWC dual meet record of 7-0.
Kate Duvall and Abby Pavelko come into the meet as defending NWC champions. Duvall won both the 100 and 200 backstroke races last year and is the conference record-holder at the 200 distance. Pavelko is a three-time champion in the 400 I.M. and set a meet record while winning the event in 2012.
Melissa Barringer was the runner up in the 100 breaststroke last season and set a school record in that event. Alisa Stang was also the NWC runner up in two events last year – the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Several newcomers look to make a splash this season for Whitworth's women. Bridget Louis has the NWC's best time in the 1,650 freestyle heading into the meet, and the second-best mark in the 400 I.M. Hannah Norris is ranked highly in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke races, as is Kori Carpenter in the 100 and 200 freestyles, along with the 100 butterfly. Heather Spall is seeded highly in the 200 butterfly.
In addition, the Pirate women will bring the conference's best times this season in four different relays: the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays and the 200 medley relay.
The women's meet figures to be wide open. Defending champion Puget Sound brings some of the fastest seed times into the meet, while Pacific (Ore.), Pacific Lutheran and Whitman continue to show dramatic improvement from last season.
"It is a really, really deep field from top to bottom and should be a great meet," Schadt said. "It's going to be a great competition and should bring the best out of all of us."