By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's and women's swimming teams are ready to compete at the 2018 Northwest Conference Swimming Championships this weekend at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington. Action gets underway in the pool on Friday, Feb. 9 and continues through Sunday, Feb. 11. There will be preliminary heats each day at 10 a.m., with finals held at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
For Willamette's nine seniors, it's a chance to cap their careers with tremendous efforts and qualifying times that will get them into the finals. Cassie Tallman (Sr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS) is ranked in the top five in two events, and Mark Yuvienco (Sr., San Jose, CA/Bellarmine College Prep) is listed in the top five in one event. Ashlyn Witherwax (Sr., Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) has top times this season that are ranked in top eight in two events, while Kate Harvey (Sr., Atlantic Beach, FL/Duncan Fletcher HS) is ranked in the top eight in one event.
"We have a large senior class who will be heading to the NWC's for the final time," Willamette Head Coach Leslie Shevlin said. "We are looking forward to seeing if Mark, Cassie and Ashlyn will maintain their dominance in thier respective events and if our other seniors can reach the finals."
Tallman is listed third in the women's 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:06.98 and is third in the women's 200-yard breaststroke at 2:26.24. She ranks sixth in the women's 200-yard individual medley at 2:14.80 and is just 0.41 out of fourth. Witherwax holds the seventh-fastest time in the women's 200-yard breaststroke at 2:29.06 and is eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:08.86, just 0.31 out of fifth in the seedings.
In the women's 1,000-yard freestyle, Harvey is ranked eighth at 11:27.31.
Tallman and Witherwax hold Willamette's records in the women's breaststroke events. Tallman owns WU's fastest time in the 200 breaststroke, set at last year's NWC Championships in 2:23.16. Witherwax is the all-time leader in the 100 breaststroke at 1:06.94, also at last year's NWC Championships. Both swimmers are very strong at both distances.
Yuvienco is seeded second in the men's 200-yard butterfly after earning a time of 1:57.05 earlier this season. At last year's NWC Championships, Yuvienco set the school record in the 200 butterfly in 1:53.46, giving him the top three times on Willamette's list. Yuvienco is seeded 10th at this year's championships in the men's 100-yard butterfly with a top time of 53.14 seconds.
"We are ready for the Northwest Conference swim meet," Shevlin commented. "I hope to repeat the success we had at our mid-season meet (in Corvallis) and finish the season with even more personal-best times and high relay and individual finishes. The keys for our program will be getting people who are seeded in the 20's into the top 16. The team knows that is the goal."
The Bearcats also hope to succeed in the 1,650-yard freestyle events, which will be held on Sunday immediately prior to the final session. Swimmers in the 1,650 will swim in several heats and will be competing against time.
"Our distance freestyle group has two women and two men in the top 16 of the 1,650 freestyle," Shevlin noted.
Anna Burdine (Jr., Seattle, WA/Mount Rainier HS) is seeded 14th and Harvey is seeded 15th in the women's 1,650 freestyle. Burdine's top time this year is 19:38.40, while Harvey has a top time of 19:44.56. In the men's 1,650 freestyle, Colin Hakeman (So., Bellingham, WA/Sehome HS) is ranked 11th at 17:41.73 and Ben Fritz (Fr., Los Gatos, CA/Leigh HS) is 13th at 18:00.31.
Overall, the freshmen, sophomores and juniors are ready to contribute for the Bearcats this weekend. "I think you will see a lot of Bearcat names that you haven't seen before in the top 16," Shevlin said.
Burdine is ranked fourth in the women's 1,000-yard freestyle at 11:14.88. Kiley Lin (Jr./So., Palo Alto, CA/Henry M. Gunn HS) is listed fourth in the women's 100-yard butterfly with a time of 59.46 seconds. Lin holds Willamette's record in the 100 butterfly at 57.88 seconds, which she earned at the 2016 NCAA Championships. This year, Lin is seeded eighth in the women's 200-yard butterfly at 2:18.21.
Ben Hedman (So., Davis, CA/Davis HS) is ranked in the top five in three events. He has the NWC's top time this season in the men's 200-yard butterfly at 1:56.09. He is third in the men's 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:57.75 and is fourth in the men's 400-yard individual medley at 4:12.88.
"Hedman swam a phenomenal mid-season meet," Shevlin recalled. "He goes into the meet ranked in the top four in all three of his event."
Several other Willamette athletes are ranked in the top 10 of their respective events. Hakeman is listed fourth in the men's 400-yard individual medley at 4:12.88 and is eighth in the men's 1,000-yard freestyle with a top result of 10:24.86. Niki Kates (So., Truckee, CA/Forest Charter School) is tied for the ninth seed in the 100-yard backstroke at 1:01.63.
Derek Ludwig (So., Moraga, CA/Campolindo HS) is ranked sixth in the men's 100-yard butterfly at 52.70 seconds and is eighth in the men's 200-yard butterfly at 2:00.49. Ludwig is just outside the top 10 in the men's 200-yard individual medley, as his time of 2:01.96 ranks 11th overall. Fritz is 11th in the men's 1,000-yard freestyle at 1:29.40.
"We'll see how the points add up when it's all said and done," Shevlin said. "While there are many individual performances we are looking forward to ... our coaching staff is already so proud to be taking this group of people to Federal Way. They are Scholar All-Americans and they are people of good character. We are looking forward to hanging out for four days and getting to watch these people who we care about so much swim fast and enjoy being around each other."