Adding speed and quality depth, and armed with ample motivation, the Linfield swimming program should continue to ascend the Northwest Conference ladder during Kyle Kimball’s third year as coach.
“Our goal is to win the conference on both sides,” said Kimball. “We’re going to keep working toward that goal. I totally believe we have the pieces to make the move up the ladder and be one of the stronger teams in the conference.”
The centerpiece of the men’s roster is senior Victor Brasil. The 28-year old Brazilian is a two-time NCAA championship-meet competitor as well as a school- and conference-record holder in the 200-yard breaststroke. Brasil provides of beacon for the younger swimmers to follow. “Victor gives us the experience factor and confidence going into big meets," said Kimball.
An outstanding group of sprinters give the Linfield men ample scoring punch. The list begins with defending NWC 50 freestyle champion Neirton Oliveira, who returns with national-meet aspirations. Trevor Gourley is also expected to open eyes this winter after placing third in the NWC in the 50 freestyle a year ago. Matt Hanson and Hayden Cooksy should lend support. Freshman Dylan Clemons is a nice addition to the group as well.
The distance freestyle is anchored by Josh Luffred and team captain David Brody. Letterman David Flores could make waves as well after showing tremendous cuts in his times during training camp.
Linfield should be solid in the men’s butterfly with speedy newcomer Noah Cutting, who joins Hanson, veteran Juan Vidal, and solid all-around freshman Clay Younker.
Brasil and Clemons will cover the breaststroke events while Cutting, Brody and Oliveria will be tough competitors in the backstroke.
Vidal, Cutting and Oliveira can swim all four strokes well and will be the leading challengers in the individual medley.
With so much versatility spread between Brasil, Oliveira, Cutting and Gourley, Kimball believes the Wildcats are fully capable of qualifying a medley relay squad for the NCAA Championships.
“Every meet, we’re going to be in the mix and fighting to win,” said Kimball. “We are no longer a school that can be overlooked. That’s exciting.”
The women’s squad also stands capable of a season of sweeping accomplishment. “Our strength is our youth,” said Kimball. “The freshman and sophomore classes are probably second-to-none in the conference right now. We now have much better team depth behind our top-tier kids.”
The women have an array of talented racers. Rita Cohen, school record holder in the 50 freestyle, returns to anchor the sprints. Grace Lawson, a McMinnville native and recent transfer from the University of Puget Sound, was a NWC finalist last season and should be a prominent performer. Newcomers Alexis Murphy and Molli Hartzell add versatility to the lineup.
In the distance events, Linfield can rely on Evette Dow, the NWC’s defending 500 freestyle champion and 1,650 runner-up. Junior Erin Nelson is back to score points, joining fellow veterans Jamie Dunn and Stacie Cuadro.
Murphy and Lawson are the featured athletes in the women’s butterfly, challenging Cohen, the reigning record holder in the 100 butterfly, and freshmen Hartzell and Lauren Morrison.
Linfield brings both speed and depth to the breaststroke events with versatile sophomore Kaedi Fry competing alongside Murphy, Tahnijo Kakazu and senior Charlotte Smith.
Fry, the defending NWC champion in both the 200 and 400 individual medley, is capable of making a strong run at earning an invitation to the NCAA Championships. Hartzell and Kakazu will also be contenders in the IM events.
Dow, Fry and Kakazu, all finalists in the 200 backstroke last season, give Linfield a worthy 1-2-3 punch. Hartzell and Elizabeth Fryer could also score points for the ‘Cats.
With the objective of winning a NWC relay championship clearly front and center, the women’s foursomes should be even faster this winter. Cohen, Dow, Fry, Hartzell, Kakazu and Murphy are expected to wage internal battles to determine who competes in counting races.
Kimball believes the 2016-17 season is “going to be a fun year.” He said the team is constructed to compete not so much as a dual meet power but as a big-meet contender.
“We’re going to continue knocking on the (championship) door and eventually it will open,” said Kimball. “I see our program continuing to separate itself from the other schools in Oregon. I’m eager to show the Washington schools what we can do.”