FEDERAL WAY, Wash. - It was a bittersweet night for the Whitman College swim teams on Sunday as they capped their best-ever season with a strong finish at the eight-school Northwest Conference Swim Championships.
The Whitman men's team, one year after placing third for its best finish in two decades, came within four points of breaking into the top two as the championship meet ended its three-day run at the King County Aquatic Center.
The Missionary women's team, which had finished third or fourth at the six previous championships, had to settle for fourth on Sunday - finishing a scant one point behind third-place Lewis & Clark.
Whitworth collected 724.5 points to take first in the men's team scoring, while Puget Sound and Whitman finished second and third, respectively, with 611 and 607 points.
On the women's side, Whitworth with 793 points and Puget Sound with 753 took the top two spots. Lewis & Clark was third with 356 points, a single point in front of Whitman.
With both Whitman teams locked in a Sunday night battle to finish one notch higher, it all came down to the final event - the 400-yard freestyle relays.
Trailing Lewis & Clark by three points, the Missionary women got a school record effort (3:38.77) from junior captain Lauren Flynn and first-year swimmers Charlotte Graham, Helen Jenne and Katie Chapman, who finished the relay in third place to earn 32 points.
Lewis & Clark's relay squad finished more than four seconds back in fourth place, but that was good enough for 30 points, just enough for the Pioneers to hold on to third place in the women's final team standings.
Heartache also awaited the Whitman's men team, which trailed Puget Sound by two points on the cusp of the final relay.
Junior Jamie Nusse, sophomores Mitchell Lee and Matt Rowett, and freshman Paul Chang turned in a strong effort (3:11.14), placing third to add 32 points to the final Missionary team total.
But the Puget Sound men finished second in the relay, almost two seconds in front of Whitman, to notch 34 points and hold off the Missionaries for second place in the final standings.
The continuing emergence of the Whitman men's team, which had just six athletes on its roster five years ago, was reflected in voting for this season's conference coaching honors.
Jenn Blomme, who coaches both Whitman swim teams, was named Coach of the Year on the men's side for the first time in her 10 seasons. She had earned the same honor for women's swimming in 2005 and 2006.