Tabor swimmers making positive strides in 3rd year

The Tabor College swim team is comprised of these athletes: front row (from left) manager Quinlee Nib­lock, Aleya Hill, Angela Smith, Kianna Hinerman, Kyndel McCloy, student assistant MacKenzie Bilbrey; (second row) head coach Nate Duell, Sarah Schulte, Kelly Smith, Kaitlin Whitten, Michal Parris, Jessica Beneke, graduate assistant Caysi Sykes; (third row) Danny Smith, Nick Bradley; (back row) Tristan Ward, Jacob Rudolph, Brett Magee, Evan Bell, John McCullough.
The Tabor College swim team is comprised of these athletes: front row (from left) manager Quinlee Nib­lock, Aleya Hill, Angela Smith, Kianna Hinerman, Kyndel McCloy, student assistant MacKenzie Bilbrey; (second row) head coach Nate Duell, Sarah Schulte, Kelly Smith, Kaitlin Whitten, Michal Parris, Jessica Beneke, graduate assistant Caysi Sykes; (third row) Danny Smith, Nick Bradley; (back row) Tristan Ward, Jacob Rudolph, Brett Magee, Evan Bell, John McCullough.
In its third season of existence, the Tabor College swim program is making positive strides in the water as third-year coach Nate Duell and the team seek to mark progress on a path of continued growth.

Last season saw the Bluejays make history when the men became the first Tabor team to score points at the national meet. The Tabor men scored points in three freestyle relays—the 800-yard, 200-yard and 400-yard—and accomplished it with just four swimmers on the roster.

“We didn’t have options,” Duell said. “Those were the four guys that were going to be on the relay. They really stepped up and started to look like swimmers and like a team. When you have those small numbers, that’s a big deal.”

In addition, four women qualified for nationals, and Duell said the women improved their swims as well.

“When you’re starting a new program and you’re in year two, it’s the baby steps you look for,” he said. “We made the right steps last year to really lead into a successful future.”

Returning swimmers

Three of the four national-qualifying Bluejay men are back from last year’s team: junior Brett Magee and sophomores Evan Bell and Tristan Ward.

For the women, three of Tabor’s four national qualifiers return to the program: juniors Angela Smith and Kelly Smith, and sophomore Aleya Hill. Two additional swimmers are back: juniors Kianna Hinerman and Sarah Schulte.

Also back is sophomore Jessica Beneke, who redshirted last year.

“The really great thing about the returning swimmers is we finally have upperclassmen,” Duell said. “We have juniors, so they’ve been in the program for two years and they have a much better idea of what our program is aiming for and the direction we’re going.

“The returning sophomores are some of our best leaders, so it’s a great combination of that experience and leadership that’s really critical to where this program’s going.”

Newcomers

Duell has added four men—all freshmen—to the mix: Nicholas Bradley, John McCullough, Jacob Rudolph and Danny Smith.

On the women’s side, Duell has added three freshmen: Kyndel McCloy, who also plays volleyball at Tabor; Michal Parris and Kaitlin Whitten. He said he anticipates adding another swimmer at interterm.

Duell said his newcomers are stepping in and filling roles early.

“We had a really great recruiting class, beyond just what they can do as swimmers,” he said. “We kind of changed our tact last year with how we were recruiting. Instead of just welcoming anybody that was willing to give it a shot, we really looked at people who were going to contribute in the pool but were also going to be a good part of our campus and our community.

“This new class has really exemplified that. They’ve brought a nice energy. They really fit well into the Tabor community and our program and what we’re trying to accomplish over the next few years as we grow.”

Tabor has already competed in four meets this season. Evaluating results is a process, Duell said.

“We don’t get the kind of feedback, necessarily, that you get by winning or losing basketball games,” he said. “We have to look at a lot of different things.”

Duell mentioned the Drury Invitational as an example, where the Bluejays competed against NCAA Division II schools and the host school has won 10 of the last 12 NCAA Division II national championships.

“That competition was brutal, so it’s difficult to judge how we performed there because there was, frankly, a lot of intimidation,” he said. “We could swim really well and it wouldn’t necessarily look good on paper.

“It’s more of the long game in swimming where you want to do certain things at meets and have little benchmarks of your progress.”

The ultimate test comes at the end—at the Hendrix Invitational to conclude the fall meets, and the national championships in March.

Outlook

The Bluejays are a free­style-heavy team this season.

“We have people filling in spots that they’re not necessarily comfortable with, but they do a good job with it,” Duell said. “That’s something we’ll address in recruiting. But everybody has their own niche, event-wise.”

Duell said one goal is for all 10 relays to qualify for nationals. The women have already qualified all five of theirs.

Additionally, he would like to see individuals not only qualify for nationals but score once they get there. He would also like to see his swimmers achieve the “A” qualifying standard.

With year three underway, Duell said he is pleased with the direction the program is headed.

“I am pleased this year more than I have (been) with any other year,” he said. “I’ve kind of dealt with the learning curve a little bit, and we are absolutely headed in the right direction. I think our recruiting is better. The kind of kids we’re bringing in are kids that are going to stay and want to be a part of building something special.”

Tabor will start the new year with a meet at Nebraska Wesleyan Jan. 14.