A seismic shift in attitude, a new training regimen and a late season addition to the roster all contributed to Linfield rising in Northwest Conference prominence and pecking order during the 2014-15 season.
New coach Kyle Kimball shook things up with a fresh training approach that relied on a single practice per day rather than two. His student-athletes welcomed the change and flourished under his tutelage. And when muscular freshman Victor Brasil arrived from South America to join the team in January, it confirmed that Linfield is ready to once again become a conference-championship contending team in the seasons to come.
Both the Linfield men’s and women’s squads placed sixth at the eight-team NWC Championships in February. Though modest, the gains signaled the rising of a phoenix from the ashes.
“Within Oregon, Linfield is now considered the best small-college program,” said Kimball. “We’re definitely the most improved program. Recruits are noticing that change, which speaks well for the future.”
Brasil provided the season’s biggest splash, setting school and NWC records in the 100 breaststroke on his way to winning the first individual NWC title by a Linfield swimmer since 2009.
The 26-year-old Brazilian, drawn to Linfield by assistant coach Murilo Martins, brought more than just an individual title to McMinnville.
“It wasn’t just Victor’s speed, it was the winning attitude he brought that helped instill confidence in our team,” said Kimball.
Brasil opened eyes at the NWC Championships, surpassing all expectations with a record clocking of 55.71 in the 100 breaststroke finals, obliterating runner-up Joe Bowley of Pacific Lutheran by nearly two full seconds. It also qualified him for the NCAA Championship meet in late March.
The addition of Juan Vidal, a transfer from Mt. Hood Community College, plus freshmen Matthew Hanson, Hayden Cooksy and David Brody, bolstered the Linfield men’s performance in the relays.
Individually, each of the freshmen achieved remarkable results at season’s end. Hanson shaved six seconds off his top time in the 100 butterfly. Cooksy was six seconds faster in the 100 freestyle. And Brody trimmed a full minute from his previous best effort in the 1,650 freestyle.
Junior Ian White turned in a solid season, providing versatility by performing well in multiple events. Senior Ian Coker supplied outstanding leadership as team captain.
The Wildcat women’s squad also was brimming with accomplishment. Sophomore Rita Cohen emerged as a leading point producer, turning in lifetime-best times in each of her events while also bringing a dynamic attitude.
Elizabeth Fry, whom Kimball calls Linfield’s most well-rounded swimmer, was asked to shoulder much of the scoring load and the junior delivered. Fry captained the two relays while excelling in the 500 and 1,650 freestyle events.
Another junior, Nikki Overton, also made significant contributions in the freestyle and relay events, despite training independently while attending Linfield’s Portland campus.
Freshman Erin Nelson turned in an incredible season and was the Wildcats’ fourth cog on the relays. The four women combined for a record-setting performance in the 400 freestyle relay. Their time of 3:38.14 snipped the 22-year-old record of 3:38.25 set by Wendy Hocker, Korene Cellers, Tammy Lambert and Shelly Nigh during the NAIA era of Linfield swimming.
Cohen, Fry, Overton and Nelson clocked 1:38.82 in the 200 freestyle relay to eclipse the long-standing record of 1:39.99.
“The kids really bought into what the coaching staff was trying to accomplish,” said Kimball. “They performed at an optimum level, swimming to their full capability.”
In Kimball’s mind, the goal of becoming the top NWC program from Oregon after his initial season was achieved.
“My only disappointment was finishing behind Willamette by two points at the conference meet,” he said, referring to the men’s final point standings. “All we needed to earn fifth was just place one step higher in any individual race or relay.”
Leading up to the NWC Championships, Linfield won two dual conference meets, the first such victories since 2013, defeating Willamette and Lewis & Clark.