Pirate swimming: a decade of dominance

by Sena Hughes

From 1947 until 1962, the New York Yankees took home 10 World Series Rings in 15 years. The Montreal Canadians won five consecutive National Hockey League Stanley Cups from 1956 to 1960. The UCLA Bruins won 10 NCAA men’s basketball National Championships in 12 years between 1964 and 1975.

And now, there is the Whitworth swim team.

On Sunday in Federal Way, Wash., the Whitworth Pirates men’s swim team became the first Whitworth team to ever take home 10 consecutive Northwest Conference Championships. Furthermore, the men capped 10 perfect seasons in NWC dual meets.

“I’m very proud of the guys [and] very proud of the team,” senior Rory Buck said. “It’s great to honor the last 10 years of alumni. It’s a relief and it’s an ecstatic feeling.”

The Whitworth women’s swim team placed second behind the University of Puget Sound Loggers in a tight competition. That is their fifth consecutive top two finish. The women also finished the season with a perfect dual-meet record.

“This meet this weekend went better than we could have ever anticipated,” junior captain Anna Case said. “We had a rough year with injuries and sickness, so numbers-wise we were the underdogs. The girls swam their hearts out and swam amazingly. To finish in the top two is awesome.”

The weekend started off with a splash for the Pirates. On Friday, freshman Wes Walton took home his first-ever collegiate conference title in the 200-yard individual medley.

“After I raced it I felt really, really good,” Walton said. “During finals I didn’t focus on the race at all and just swam my best and ended up on top.”

Walton swam later in the day with teammates Buck, junior Nathan Ranno and sophomore Aaron Vaccaro as they set a meet-record in the 400-yard medley relay.

“I think we just have a solid group of guys,” Buck said. “We’ve got the depth, we’ve got the challenge. It’s just a great group of guys right now.”

On the women’s side, senior Jennifer Benson, junior Melissa Barringer, and freshmen Marit Borth and Alisa Stang combined to take first in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Barringer and Stang competed with sophomore Kate Duvall and freshman Samantha Smith to take second in the 400-yard medley relay, but still broke a Whitworth school record.

“Those girls swam terrifically,” head coach Steve Schadt said Saturday. “Each one of them did about as well as they could have.”

Saturday, the Whitworth men maintained a commanding lead. Buck, Walton and Vaccaro were joined by freshman Wes Tatum to take home gold in the 200-yard medley relay. Vaccaro also pulled out an excruciatingly close third-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly. The 200-yard freestyle was all Whitworth. Senior Austin Vierra took first with teammates Oliver Durand, Mitchell Beck, Ranno and Callum MacKintosh following in second through fifth places, respectively.

“As a team, you know it’s always great to see everyone do well,” Durand said. “We kind of have a saying, ‘As champions we expect ourselves to succeed.’ We expect ourselves to swim fast. And when you watch others swim fast it really jazzes you.”

Buck topped nothing but his own NWC Championship meet time while defending his title in the 100-yard breaststroke and posting a national- qualifying time. Still, he said his best performance is yet to come.
“I have goals for myself in 100 and 200 breast- stroke,” Buck said. “I would like to go out with a bang [at nationals]. I still have unfinished business.”

The Loggers began to creep up on the women on Saturday, but the Bucs were temporarily able to maintain control of first place. Barringer broke a 16-year standing school record in the 100-yard breaststroke preliminary rounds to start the day.

“I’m happy with my swim after working for six months and finally getting to taper down and getting a chance to show what I was working for,” Barringer said. “It’s really rewarding and fun to be able to do that.”

The women’s 200-yard medley relay team consisting of Barringer, Benson, Smith and Stang also earned first for a Whitworth sweep of the event. Junior Abby Pavelko defended her NWC title in the 400-yard individual medley. Duvall posted an upset win in the 100-yard backstroke, then was joined by Benson, Stang and freshman Nicole Lecoq in the 800-yard freestyle relay and collected another first place finish for the Pirates.

Barringer mentioned getting some extra support from the Whitworth track & field team, also competing in western Washington this weekend, who stopped in to watch part of Saturday’s meet.

“It’s just fun to have this much support,” Barringer said Saturday.

The men soared to their title Sunday, finishing with a final score of 796 — a 224 point gap above second place finisher, Whitman. Walton took home another gold in the 200-yard backstroke.

“I’ve just swam to swim and just tried to have fun,” Walton said. “For me, at the heart of it, all it really is is having fun.”

Buck defended his title as 200-yard breaststroke champion. Vaccaro took second in the 100-yard freestyle. Durand placed second in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

“For me individually, it was really great to see the work I’ve put in the last two years really pay off in my events,” Durand said.

The women didn’t quite have enough to overcome UPS on Sunday. Duvall defended her title in the 200-yard backstroke, also setting a NWC record. Pavelko and Benson both earned second place finishes in the 1,650-yard and 100-yard freestyle races, respectively. Benson, Duvall, Lecoq and Case finished the meet strong for the women, winning the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Team members anxiously anticipate the postings regarding NCAA qualifying times, but for now the Bucs have much to be proud of.

“I’m incredibly proud to be part of Whitworth swimming,” Buck said. “It’s been a huge influence in my life. It’s a great bunch of people, it’s a great family that stands for great goals and great aspiration, and you know when you swim for something greater than yourself amazing things can happen.”

Contact Sena Hughes at shughes15@my.whitworth.edu.

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