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February 9, 2012

Lutes Not Out of Their Depth at NWC Meet

THIS WEEKEND: Pacific Lutheran competes at the Northwest Conference Swimming Championships scheduled for Friday through Sunday at the Weyerheauser King County Aquatic Center (WKCAC) in Federal Way. Preliminary round competition begins all three days at 10 a.m., with finals scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

MEET INFORMATION: Single-session tickets and all-session passes are available and can be purchased at the door. Children under the age of six and students from NWC schools with a valid ID will be admitted free of charge. All-session passes are $25 for adults and $18 for youths and seniors. Single-session tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youths and seniors. The WKCAC is located at 650 SW Campus Drive in Federal Way and can be accessed off of the 348th Street exit on I-5.

LISTEN LIVE: For the second consecutive year, former Pacific Lutheran swimming coach Jim Johnson will provide live event-by-event audio coverage of the NWC Championships finals sessions. You can access Johnson's call on the PLU athletics website, www.golutes.com. Click on the "Listen Live" link and then on the appropriate link.

2010 RESULTS: Whitworth cruised to a pair of team championships at the Northwest Conference Swimming Championships held at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore. The Whitworth men won their ninth consecutive conference crown in convincing fashion, scoring 923.5 points to Puget Sound's 586.5. Rounding out the team scores were Whitman 529.5, PLU 314.5, Pacific 307, Lewis & Clark 216, Linfield 201, and Willamette 7. On the women's side, Whitworth won its second straight team title and its third in the past four years, scoring 817 points to 679 for runner-up Puget Sound. Lewis & Clark rallied on the final day to finish third with 449 points, one point more than fourth place Whitman. Pacific scored 242 points, followed by PLU with 236, Linfield 174, and Willamette 128.

HISTORY LESSON: You would have to go back to 1989 to find the last time that Pacific Lutheran won a NWC men's swimming championship. PLU was the dominant team throughout the 1970s and 1980s, winning 10 consecutive team titles from 1969-78, five in a row from 1981-85, and two straight in 1988-89. Individually, PLU's most recent conference event winner was Jay Jones, named the Co-Outstanding Male Swimmer after winning the 200 butterfly and the 200 and 400 IMs, setting school records in all three events, at the 2009 conference championships. On the women's side, Pacific Lutheran won its last conference team championship in 1996. PLU dominated conference swimming in the 80s and into the early 90s, however, garnering 11 consecutive crowns between 1982-92. The last PLU female swimmer to win an individual event was Ashlyn Owen, who took the 100 backstroke in 2006. 

LUTES LOOK TO MOVE UP: Improved depth in both the men's and women's teams should mean more Pacific Lutheran swimmers in championship and consolation finals at the Northwest Conference Swimming Championships. That would result in more points for the PLU teams, and hopefully upward movement in the final team standings. 

WOMEN'S MEET NOTES: Whitworth finished at0p the conference dual meet standings with a perfect 6-0 record, followed by Whitman at 5-1 and Puget Sound at 5-2. Whitworth is favored to win its third straight conference crown, but look for long-time NWC power Puget Sound to make some noise, as always. PLU, which was 3-2 in conference duals (it did not swim against Whitworth and Whitman), figures to be in the middle of the pack, and finish higher than last year's sixth place, because of better depth and relays. "I don't know that we've improved enough to move into the upper echelon with Whitworth and UPS," Sellman said, noting that Whitman, Pacific and PLU are in the mix for third with Whitman favored for that spot. "Pacific, like Whitman, has top-end talent but not as much depth as us. We beat them in the (Northwest) Invitational but they beat us in the dual meet. It should be tight between us for fourth."

PLU'S TOP FEMALE HOPEFULS: Sellman lists frosh Toni Castillo (59.64) as a legitimate title contender in the 100 butterfly, though she enters the meet with the fourth-best time behind Whitworth's Samantha Smith (58.35), Whitman's Katie Chapman (58.50) and Puget Sound's Melissa Norrish (58.82). "(Toni) has beaten the girls head-to-head that are seeded ahead of her in the 100 fly, but she would be considered an underdog," Sellman said. "If she's in the race she's got a chance. I would put her up against anybody in the last 25 yards." Castillo is also ranked sixth in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 free. Sophomore Kina Ackerman enters the meet ranked fourth in the 400 individual medley and is in the top 14 in both the 200 IM and the 500 freestyle. Senior Elizabeth Althauser is 11th in the 200 freestyle but has a chance to move into the championship final in that event. The Lutes are strong in the 100 backstroke with Darla Avis (1:02.69) ranked fourth, followed by Michelle Hogan in seventh and Haley Cooper in ninth. Avis and Cooper are ninth and 10th, respectively, in the 200 back.

MEN'S MEET NOTES: Based on season-best times and a perfect 6-0 record against the conference, Whitworth is the clear favorite to make it 10 consecutive NWC men's swimming titles. (It should be noted here that the Lutes finished 5-0 in the conference but did not swim against Whitworth and Whitman because of travel and academic issues related to the January snow and ice storm.) There is a three-team battle between PLU, Whitman and UPS in the mix for second place. "It's a tight race for those three spots, and our depth is very key in that regard," said PLU head coach Matt Sellman. "We should be showing much greater in the finals and consols (consolation finals). It's been a long time since there has been this many teams at the top this close to each other." While the Lutes didn't swim a dual against Whitman this season, they saw each other at the NWC Sprints and NWC Relays in late October, as well as the Northwest Invitational in late November. "They have more top-end talent," Sellman said, adding that team depth is also a significant factor. As far as Puget Sound goes, the Lutes beat the Loggers in a January dual meet. However, Pacific Lutheran has never finished ahead of Puget Sound in either the men's or women's portions of the Northwest Conference Championships since UPS came back into the conference in the 1996-97 season. On the men's side, said Sellman, "I think we have the horses to do it this year."

PLU'S TOP MALE HOPEFULS: "This year we have eight to 10 guys that could finish in the top eight in one or two events," Sellman said, "and that is a significant improvement over previous years." Junior Chase Mesford is ranked ninth in the 500 free, sixth in the 50 free, and fourth in the 200 freestyle. He is one of several PLU male swimmers that will be chasing national meet provisional qualifying times. Among the others who are setting a similar high bar are senior Rayan Carter, sophomore Jacob Deines, and freshmen Corban Elliott and Joseph Parker. Sellman said, however, that his male swimmers are more focused on breaking school records, particularly in the relays. "They see the potential, they've done the math," Sellman said. "They know what everybody's capable of swimming, and that potential would set records. It's got them excited about getting their names on the board and getting my name off of it. I've told them my goal (as coach) is to get my name off of the record board." Sellman, by the way, helped establish four school relay records in 1996 in the 200 medley and the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles. Sellman believes that Parker has the potential to set a new record in the 100 back, currently the oldest individual event record on the books. Bruce Wakefield swam 53.61 back in 1977 to set the mark, and Parker comes into the conference meet ranked third with a season-best 54.29. Where the Lutes finish in the men's competition could come down to how an outstanding group of freshmen respond to big meet pressure. "The way they have looked this year they could shock the conference and come away with all-conference honors," Sellman said. "Them being freshmen you don't know what to expect, but they haven't been a disappointment this year."

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: It has been well documented that the Lutes have been without a home pool in which to practice since Jan. 18, when the pool was closed down because of damage to the roof caused in part by snow and ice accumulations. Since that time, PLU has practiced at either Curtis High School or the University of Puget Sound. "We've tried to keep it as normal as possible," Sellman said of the adjustment. "You wouldn't think anything has happened by the way they have been training and their attitude. At the UPS meet they swam great.  They could have used every excuse in the book and they didn't." This week, the Lutes have moved their practice to the WKCAC, the site of the conference meet. "We consider it an advantage for us," Sellman said. "They can get accustomed to the facility, to the water and going into the walls."

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