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Swimmers take all

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter The Mercer Island High School boys swim and dive team won its third consecutive state title on Saturday at the King County Aquatics Center by a record margin of 204 points. Islander teammates, from left, Kirk Harbaugh, Chris Ferrell, Brian Harmon, Theo Danciu, Kyle Schaeffer, Beau Riebe, Duncan Howard (backpack) and Henry Brockway cheer on the 400-yard freestyle relay team to victory.  -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter The Mercer Island High School boys swim and dive team won its third consecutive state title on Saturday at the King County Aquatics Center by a record margin of 204 points. Islander teammates, from left, Kirk Harbaugh, Chris Ferrell, Brian Harmon, Theo Danciu, Kyle Schaeffer, Beau Riebe, Duncan Howard (backpack) and Henry Brockway cheer on the 400-yard freestyle relay team to victory.
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MIHS boys win state swim title by record margin, take multiple individual titles

Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter

Over the past two state-championship seasons, the Mercer Island High School boys swim and dive team were defined by the depth of their talent, which could only be measured by the success of past years. This year, the only thing the team’s depth could be compared to is the Mariana Trench.

The Islanders scored 374 team points to capture their third consecutive state title in record fashion. Mercer Island beat the next closest team, Newport (170), by 204 points. The previous records for margin of victory (155 points) and overall points scored (340) were set in 2004 by Mount Rainier.

“It was huge for them to come in and swim relaxed,” said Mercer Island coach Jeff Lowell, who was also named coach of the year. “They have learned how to trust themselves and believe in that trust when the gun goes off.”

Islander swimmers also took home multiple individual state titles.

The Mercer Island team of Alex Hoff, Ian Fisk, Tyler Benster and Murray Longbotham dominated the 400-yard freestyle to retain the only individual state title from 2007. For the second consecutive year, Longbotham finished the last leg of the race an entire pool length ahead of the second-place team. Mercer Island won the event in a time of 3:09.82, which qualified the team for automatic All-American status. The time was nearly five seconds better than in 2007.

Longbotham also won his first individual state title in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:40.57. His time was also good enough for automatic All-American status.

“I really wanted to win and get the All-American time,” said Longbotham. “I had a lot of energy left after the first 100, and I took it out.”

Mercer Island dominated the event by also placing Tyler Benster (fourth, 1:44.81), Kyle Schaeffer (fifth, 1:44.89) and Alex Tao (13th, 1:49.93) during the finals.

Longbotham would have taken home a second state title if it hadn’t been for a Mercer Island resident and freshman from Eastside Catholic. Ethan Hallowell and Longbotham (47.24) managed to lead over the No. 1 seed swimmer during the finals of the 100-yard freestyle to finish first and second overall. Hallowell touched the wall first in a time of 46.81 and earned an All-American consideration time. It was the second of two state titles for the freshman. Earlier in the meet, Hallowell won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.40, also an All-American consideration time. Fisk finished fifth during the 50 free (22.10) and fifth in the 100 free (47.92). Tao was 12th in the 100 free (49.93).

“This meet is so much different than any other meet,” said Hallowell. “There is so much energy, it is phenomenal.”

Swimming against athletes from Mercer Island was a “different” experience for Hallowell as he swims with many of them on club teams.

“It was kind of like a grudge match,” said Hallowell. “But it was a lot of fun.”

Junior Beau Riebe won the first boys state diving title for Mercer Island High School by scoring 397 points. The victory was sweet for Riebe as he had placed second during his sophomore and freshman seasons.

“I am happy, for sure,” said Riebe. “You have to pay your dues. There has been a big build-up the past two years, but my time has come.”

Riebe admitted that a glitch during the preliminaries on Friday threw him off. But when another glitch during the finals put the competition on hold for 10 minutes, Riebe was ready.

“I am used to things going wrong,” said Riebe.

The junior’s quest to win the state title in 2006 and 2007 was difficult as Riebe had to deal with multiple health-related problems. This year, the junior was healthy.

“Being able to practice consistently was a big plus,” said Riebe. “I am glad I won because you never know if you’ll get another shot.”

While the team had just one diver compete at state, Mercer Island placed a swimmer in all of the individual event finals, at least two swimmers in two event finals and at least three swimmers in five event finals.

Hoff placed second in the 100-yard backstroke (52.16), while Eric Stadius (13th, 57.17) and Eric Benca (15th, 58.22) also placed in the event. Hoff also took third in the 200-yard individual medley (1:55.17) with Taylor Seidel (seventh , 2:02.24) and Chris Picardo (10th, 2:03.73) also placing.

“There is no other meet like this,” said Hoff. “The adrenaline high is 10 times better than any other meet.”

Benster took second in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:46.88, while Picardo (ninth, 4:59.02) and Matthew Wiens (11th, 5:04.22) dominated the “B” final.

Both the 200-yard freestyle relay team (Longbotham, Kyle Schaeffer, Duncan Howard and Will Voit) and the 200-yard medley relay team (Hoff, Andy Wingerson, Harbaugh and Fisk) finished second overall.

The only senior to compete for Mercer Island was Kirk Harbaugh, but he made the most of his last meet in maroon and white.

“I am going to miss this,” said Harbaugh. “I have had a lot of great times.”

Harbaugh placed fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.06) and seventh in the 100-yard butterfly (54.36). Wingerson in contrast, who is a freshman, took seventh in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.81). Schaeffer finished ahead of Harbaugh in the butterfly, placing fifth with a time of 53.69.

The Islanders also won the state academic championship by earning a combined GPA of 3.69.

Mercer Island will be back next year and will hope to continue the improvement. This year the team improved its score by 94 points above 2007 and 122 more than in 2006.

“It’s time to go back to the drawing board,” said Lowell. “We have a lot of things left to accomplish.”

Complete results will be posted in next week’s Mercer Island Reporter.

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