by Sena Hughes
On the heels of their 10th consecutive Northwest Conference championship, members of the Whitworth swim team mounted the starting blocks one final time in late March at the NCAA Division III meet in Indianapolis. Senior captain Rory Buck capped off an impressive Whitworth career with his third and fourth national titles. The Whitworth men finished 14th overall.
“It’s always fun competing against the best division III athletes in the country,” Buck said. “You hope that they bring their best with them just as I hope I bring my best.”
Buck snatched his repeat titles in the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke races. He was joined in the pool by freshman Wes Walton, sophomore Aaron Vaccaro and junior Nathan Ranno for the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay in which they placed 13th, 22nd and 11th, respectively.
“The relays went a lot better than expected,” Walton said. “We improved on all of our times since conference.”
Kate Duvall was the lone woman representing the Bucs at NCAA’s for the second consecutive year. She finished 29th in the 500-yard freestyle, 39th in the 100-yard backstroke and 23rd in the 200-yard backstroke, in which she was an All-American last year. Overall, Duvall was disappointed with her performance in Indianapolis.
“I felt really confident going into the meet,” Duvall said. “You hope that your taper is going to come together at the end and my taper didn’t come together. It’s kind of you’re off or you’re on.”
Despite immediate frustration, Duvall remains hopeful for next year, especially that more of her female teammates will be able to join her. Even so, she wasn’t fazed much by swimming solo for the women the past couple of years. She spoke highly of the men with whom she traveled.
“I would rather go by myself and have someone there to represent our women’s team than to not have someone represent our women’s team at all,” Duvall said.
Walton made his debut on the national stage after a notable freshman season.
“I was told I had a good shot at going to nationals, but I didn’t really know what that meant until I was there,” Walton said. “[I learned] how much I have to improve, but also know how much I have improved. I’ve come a long ways, but I’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Walton finished 32nd in the 200-yard individual medley, 31st in the 100-yard backstroke and 24th in the 200-yard backstroke.
Vaccaro also competed individually for the second straight year for the Bucs, finishing 33rd in the 100-yard butterfly.
For Walton, Ranno, Vaccaro and Duvall, it’s time to enter off-season training. For Whitworth’s other graduating seniors, it’s time to call it a career. But it is a different story for Buck.
“Olympic trials start on the 16th of April,” said the South African native who has dreamed for years of swimming on the national team. “That’s the next point, [which] should be a lot more successful than the last one. Then I come back and graduate and then head to London, hopefully.”
Buck smiled when he added “hopefully.” He may have just won two more national championships, but according to him, his performance was “bitterly disappointing.” And after a discouraging appearance at the 2008 Olympic trials, he would love nothing more than just a little redemption.
“People look at me and say, ‘you go to a DIII school in Eastern Washington, how do you hope to make an Olympic team?’” Buck said. “I say, ‘I go to a DIII school in Eastern Washington and managed to win four national titles and set a national record.’”
Yet even this champion understands the risk of competition.
“The fear of failure is definitely one that people struggle with,” Buck said. “That’s definitely in the back of my mind too, [but] it’s only when you become bigger than your fears that you do things bigger.”
Regardless of what happens this month, Buck was adamantly complimentary and exceedingly grateful for his time at Whitworth.
“I’m going to miss the connection with the large group of people fighting as hard as they can for a common purpose,” Buck said. “The relationships that get formed with that, the character that comes out if it, the self-sacrifice — I don’t think you see that kind of sacrifice in the world anymore.”
As he mentioned, when you spend over five hours a day with a group of people you get to know them especially well. Naturally, close bonds and friendships develop from that. Buck, who has moved multiple times to various places around the globe, knows what it means to say goodbye.
“When you develop good friendships like that they don’t die,” Buck said. “But they will be missed.”
His impact has trickled down to inspire younger teammates as well.
“I want to take what I can learn from [nationals] and apply it every time I get back in the pool to swim,” Walton said. “Just on our own team, watching Rory Buck win dual national championships makes me go, ‘Wow, I want to do that as soon as possible.’”
Whitworth may not have had as stellar of a performance as it was hoping to have in Indianapolis in 2012, but this team graduates a four-time national champion who led a resurgence of Whitworth swimming to the national stage. The men made school history and took home their 10th consecutive NWC trophy while the women earned their fifth consecutive top-two finish in an increasingly competitive conference. Both teams finished undefeated in NWC dual meets.
“If I could give any bit of advice to anyone, it’s just don’t limit yourself,” Buck said. “You can’t be afraid of failing. The moment you start limiting yourself, you start selling yourself short of what you’re capable in life.”
Contact Sena Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.