The Northwestern Wildcats received a verbal commitment from Connecticut-native and distance specialist Jonathan Blansfield on Tuesday. Blansfield is a distance swimmer who represents Westport YMCA on the club level and Staples High School during high school season. In short course yards, his personal bests in freestyle are a 4:30.1 in the 500 free, a 9:32.0 in the 1000 free, and a 16:11 in the 1650 free. In long course action, Blansfield has been slightly better, with bests of 4:06.5 in the 400 meter free, a 8:30.9 in the 800 meter free, and a 16:17.9 in the 1500.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Wildcats sent two individuals to NCAAs in the form of senior Chase Stephens (19.9 50 free, 43.1 100 free, 1:37.2 200 free) and in current sophomore distance phenom Jordan Wilimovsky (4:23.8 500 free, 14:58.8 1650 freestyle). Wilimovsky is a member of the Open Water National Team, and he competed in the 25K at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, where he claimed 14th overall. The Wildcats finished 9th overall at the 2013 Big Ten Championships.
Though Wilimovsky had a sensational freshman season at Northwestern, there was a discernible scarcity of distance swimmers for the Wildcats. The team did not field any other swimmers in the 1,650 free, and Wilimovsky was joined by only then-senior Charlie Rimkus in the 500 freestyle. Rimkus would take 31st with a final time of 4:27.56 (though his lifetime best is a 4:20.31). However, Head Coach Jarod Schroeder has taken steps to fill the void left by Rimkus, including the signing of freshmen Jonathan Lieberman out of Minnesota (1:38.7 200 free, 4:26.7 500 free, 9:17.3 100 free, 3:57 400 meter free, and a 2:03.9 200 meter backstroke) and Charlie Cole out of Berkeley, New Jersey (1:38.6 200 free, 4:29.5 500 free, 9:18 100 free, 15:42 1650 free, and a 4:00 400 meter free). At the 2013 Class AA State Meet for Minnesota, Lieberman notably was one of three swimmers who dipped under an 18 year old state record set by Olympian Tom Malchow in the 500 yard freestyle (4:28.00).
The addition of Blansfield will solidify the Wildcats foothold in the distance events, and will also help create a solid training atmosphere for Wilimovsky & Co. Although the Big Ten is obviously a very strong conference in the longer races thanks to Michigan’s freestyle dynasty and several other very strong swimmers from across the Midwest, the Wildcats have taken positive steps in the last two years to rectifying some major weaknesses. To replace the graduation of Chase Stephens after this year, the Wildcats were able to snare a verbal from Israelian standout, Almog Oshtein, a sub-23 long course freestyler and a sub-25 long course butterflier. This is in addition to the Wildcats’ signing of freshman Andrew Jovanovic out of Wilmette, IL last year, and this has created a very strong speed-centric core for Northwestern in the next few years.
If Blansfield can drop a few seconds in his 500 free this year and also get a better feel for the 1,650, this will bode very well for Northwestern when he enters college next fall. As for the rest of the distance crew, the Wildcats will see how well the team’s initial training has paid off when they have their home opener against Eastern Michigan University this Friday.