WALLA WALLA - Ready to stick their toes in the pool for the first time this season, the Whitman College swim teams travel to western Oregon this weekend to test the competitive waters in a pair of meets that should attract most of the talent in the Northwest Conference.
The NWC Sprint Pentathlon, which allows swimmers to compete in each stroke, is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Willamette University in Salem.
The NWC Relay Meet follows at 11 a.m. Saturday at Linfield College in McMinnville.
After losing a relatively small number of seniors to graduation last spring, and welcoming a new class of swimmers this fall, coach Jenn Blomme is ready to begin her second decade at Whitman with her optimism in full bloom.
"This team is more unified in purpose than we've ever been in the past," Blomme says. "Everyone is excited and looking forward to the start of racing. We're poised to do quite well this season."
The Missionary men's team is coming off its best season in school history. It sped through its NWC dual meet slate with a 6-1 record (7-1 overall), good enough for second place in the final regular season standings, and then took third at the conference championship meet, missing the runner-up spot by a miniscule four points.
Meanwhile, a younger women's team finished third during the NWC dual meet season with a 5-2 mark (6-2 overall) and missed third at the championship meet by a heart-breaking single point.
"We had a great season last year, but we're not satisfied," Blomme says.
"We're not disregarding or forgetting about all the progress we've made over the past five or six years, but our perspective about ourselves and our capabilities continues to shift," Blomme says.
"More than ever before, we're focused on competing at the top of our conference and at the national level. I don't think you can do those things unless you believe first, and this team is starting to do that."
After this weekend, Blomme and her roster of 40-plus swimmers head back to the Willamette Valley Nov. 12-13 for NWC dual meets at Lewis & Clark and Pacific. The Northwest Invitational is set for Nov. 20-21 in Tacoma, followed by the Husky Invite Dec. 3-5 in Federal Way, Wash.
Following a semester break training trip to southern California in early January, Whitman tackles a string of six more NWC dual meets in preparation for the 2011 NWC championships in late February.