A rapid ascension up the Northwest Conference ladder is underway for the Linfield Wildcats swimming program and second-year coach Kyle Kimball.
In Kimball’s mind, the objectives for the 2015-16 Wildcats are clear: “We want to be competitive in every single meet. We definitely want to be the best NWC team from Oregon,” said Kimball. “When I began coaching here last season, my goal was to vie for the NWC title within three years. All three of those are attainable goals this season.”
For a program that had been trending at or near the bottom of the NWC for a number of years, talk of winning championships is refreshing conversation.
“We brought in solid recruits last year, and coupled with this year’s outstanding freshmen class, it feels as though the entire team has raised its level of expectation and performance. We’ve done a good job of putting the pieces together in all of the strokes and that means we don’t have glaring weaknesses any longer.”
Freshman Trevor Gourley is Linfield’s leading sprint freestyler with returners Matthew Hanson, Ian White and Hayden Cooksy providing needed reinforcement. The distance freestyle events are manned by returners David Brody and Juan Vidal, as well as newcomers Joshua Luffred and David Flores.
Linfield upgraded its skill-level in the butterfly. Joining White are freshmen Andres La Rosa and Neirton Oliviera. The backstroke should be sound with Griffin Yerian teaming with White and La Rosa.
Victor Brasil is back to defend his NWC title in the 100 breaststroke and should also be a contender for top honors in the 200 breaststroke. Joshua Luffred will also be a leading competitor in the breaststroke events.
“If the men stay healthy and continue to believe, we have the chance to be one of the best teams in the conference,” said Kimball. “We have a shot at qualifying 2-3 relays to the national meet. Our freshmen bring a lot of big-meet experience and that is going to be invaluable.”
Similar to the men, the women’s squad is undergoing a metamorphosis. Both versatile and talented, the women are “looking to make some noise” this winter, said Kimball.
Veteran Rita Cohen is the Wildcats’ main cog in the sprint freestyle events. Cohen brings personal goals of breaking the school record in the 50 freestyle and reaching the finals in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events at the NWC Championships in February. Adding to Linfield’s strength to the sprint freestyle are senior Nikki Overton and freshman Katherine Andersen. The distance freestyle corps features 1,650 freestyle record holder Elizabeth Fry and talented freshman Evette Dow.
Joining Cohen in the butterfly races are Malia Riggs, Ashlyn Edmondo and Jamie Dunn. The breaststroke has been bolstered by the addition of speedy freshmen Tahnijo Kakazu, Kaedi Fry and Andersen. In the backstroke the women can call upon any number of competitors, including Dow, Kakazu, Kaedi Fry or Erin Nelson.
The women’s relays are “way, way better,” as evidenced by a record-setting performance in the medley relay during an early season meet.
With some worthy components in place, Kimball believes both the men and the women can quickly rise to become championship-quality clubs.
“If everyone believes in their teammates and everyone supports one another, we will rise to the top,” he said. “Believing in themselves and believing in their teammates is even bigger than what they can accomplish in training.”