The Whitworth swimming teams will open their dual meet schedules this weekend with high expectations for the 2018-19 season. The Pirate men are favored to win the 2019 Northwest Conference title, according to the preseason NWC coaches poll. The women are picked fourth.
Steve Schadt, the 2018 NWC Men's Coach of the Year, believes his team is ready for the long grind of an NCAA swimming season.
"The energy on the deck and in the pool this fall is exciting because it's been so upbeat," Schadt said. "Our swimmers are so supportive of one another and have stayed very positive through some tough training. They are already acting very much like a family and it is clear they deeply like, respect and enjoy each other."
The Whitworth men are defending NWC champions after winning the 2018 NWC meet by more than 175 points. Patrick Wilbur, an All-American and NWC backstroke record-holder, has graduated. However, many key point scorers return.
Owen Lempert, who has the fastest 50-yard freestyle time in NWC history, also won the 100-yard breaststroke and finished second in the 100-yard freestyle at the NWC Championships in 2018. Ryan Grady was the 2018 NWC Freshman of the Year after winning league titles in the 400-yard I.M. and the 200-yard breaststroke. Grady was also runner-up in the 500-yard freestyle.
Jake Davies (I.M., breaststroke), Keenan Robinson (distance freestyle), Byron Rossmiller (I.M., backstroke) and Eben Schumann (butterfly, sprints) were all high finishers in championship finals at last season's NWC meet.
In addition, eight freshmen join the team this fall, giving Schadt a roster of 22 men's swimmers. Some of those freshmen are expected to make an immediate impact, like Finn McClone and Caden Spangler.
"Our men's team has added quality and depth in a number of events, but especially in the middle distance freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke," Schadt said. "I think this is as deep of a team as we've had in a number of years."
The Pirate women also return several key weapons from 2017-18, led by school-record holder Hannah Galbraith. Galbraith set the Whitworth record in the 100-yard backstroke last year and is the defending NWC champion in the 200-yard backstroke.
Molly Vagt finished among the top-four in three individual events last season – the 200-yard freestyle, the 500-yard freestyle (runner-up) and the 1,650-yard freestyle. Jamie Siegler was the NWC runner-up in the 200-yard breaststroke and finished fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke. Vagt and Siegler are only sophomores.
"Our women have added significant depth and talent in a number of events," Schadt said. "We will be much improved in sprint freestyle and butterfly and our think our women will be much more multi-dimensional this season."
Whitworth will host George Fox, in its first year as a program and coached by former Pirate All-American Natalie Turner, on Friday night at 6:00 pm. Pacific University will visit on Saturday afternoon.
The season will culminate at the 2019 Northwest Conference Championships February 7-9 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. The 2019 NCAA Division III Championships will be March 20-23 at the Greensboro (N.C.) Aquatic Center.