November 24, 2008 · Updated 4:22 PM
Mercer Island boys dominate state championship meet
By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter
Islander sophomore Murray Longbotham touched the wall during the final leg of the 400-yard freestyle and had enough time to turn around and watch as the rest of the field battled for second place.
The victory in the final event of the night was a perfect metaphor for the entire state meet, as the Islanders dominated the competition for its second straight state championship on Saturday at the King County Aquatic Center.
“It’s been incredible,” said Jay Voit, who was one of just three seniors swimming in the meet for a young Mercer Island team. “Everyone has kept on stepping it up and stepping it up. This year we had very different team dynamics. We were riding the underclassmen. The future looks very bright.”
Mercer Island scored 280 points as a team, while Kennedy (154), O’Dea (133) and Newport (120) fought for second place during the second half of the meet.
“Yesterday was a good day,” said Mercer Island head swim coach Jeff Lowell, who won the Coach of the Year award. “But today they brought their ‘A’ game.”
The 400-yard freestyle team, comprised of Alex Hoff, Ian Fisk, Tyler Benster and Longbotham, won the state title in a time of 3:14.47 to earn All-American consideration. But the most surprising thing about the race was that Mercer Island won by nearly five seconds over Kennedy High School — all the swimmers on the relay are sophomores or younger.
“I was more worried about getting (the all-American consideration) time (than winning the race),” said Longbotham. “It is scary because we have two more years together.”
The team brings back memories of another Mercer Island 400-yard freestyle relay team. In 2003 Alex Strand, Marcus Karma, Tamon Page and Sean Sussex shattered the state record in a time of 3:06.96. But that team had three seniors.
“They were shooting for that time and it is a good way for them to end the season,” said Lowell. “It’s possible (for them to beat that time) but it would be hard. They definitely have the talent and work ethic to do it.”
The Mercer Island 200-yard freestyle relay team of Kyle Schaeffer, Fisk, Jeff Benca and Longbotham also won the state title with a time of 1:29.06.
The team did not swim their best race during the prelims on Friday and came into the finals as the No. 2 seed to a Newport team that they had defeated during the regular and post season.
“We were mad that we didn’t get to pick the song,” said Schaeffer, referring to the music that is played as the teams are announced for the finals. The choice goes to the team that wins the prelims and Mercer Island was three one-hundredths off the Newport pace. “I think that prelims were a wake-up call for us.”
Mercer Island beat Newport by a full second during the finals.
For one swimmer the race was the culmination of hard work and tenacity.
“It is incredibly quenching,” said Benca, who is a senior. “As a freshman I expected to swim distance and I went the opposite direction. It is really satisfying to know that I made that shift and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Mercer Island sophomore diver Beau Riebe finished the state meet second overall for the second year in a row. His score of 391.20 was not enough to overcome senior and defending champion Olaf Olson of Bainbridge Island or Riebe’s bout with mononucleosis.
“It was a great performance for a guy who was sleeping 20 hours a day 10 days ago,” said Lowell.
An excited Riebe, who had not practiced in nearly two weeks, shied away from making excuses for taking second place.
“It sucked not diving but there was a bit more suspense this way,” said Riebe. “I missed on a few and I did a few better than ever. It’s all mental and I am here mentally, even if my body isn’t at its peak.”
Three Islanders each walked away from the Aquatic Center with four state medals. One of those swimmers was Longbotham, who along with the relay victories took third in the 500-yard freestyle (4:43.36) and fourth in the 200-yard freestyle. His time of 1:43.45 in the 200 was good enough for an all-American consideration.
“It was a great experience but I am just glad its over. I have been stressing about this all week. I think I’ll do wrestling next year,” Longbotham laughed.
The 200-yard freestyle was one of the defining moments for Mercer Island during the state meet, as three swimmers competed during the finals. Schaeffer, finishing sixth overall (1:46.75), and Benster, finishing eighth overall (1:47.63), along with Longbotham colored the entire left side of the medal podium maroon and white.
“Having three guys in the finals — that is the definition of a good event,” said Lowell.
Benster also took seventh in the 500-yard freestyle (4:35.57).
Islander Alex Hoff took home two top-five medals in individual events. Hoff finished third in the 200-yard individual medley (1:56.78) and fifth in the 100-yard backstroke (53.28).
“I got off the blocks well but my breaststroke was tight,” said Hoff. “You have to swim your best and hope for the best — that is what I did.”
Hoff led off the fourth place 200-yard medley relay team with Inar Zhang, Voit and Blake vanHartesvelt rounding out the team. The Islanders finished the event in a time of 1:42.16.
Fisk was the third swimmer to take home four medals. The freshman took fourth place in the 100-yard freestyle (48.47) and seventh place finish in the 50-yard freestyle (22:17), along with the two relay titles.
Schaeffer took seventh in the 100-yard backstroke (54:34), while teammate Kirk Harbaugh finished 14th (55:64) during the event.
Seniors vanHartesvelt and Voit completed their careers with state medals in individual events. Voit took 10th in the 200-yard individual medley (2:03.34), while vanHartesvelt placed 12th in the 50-yard freestyle. Voit plans to continue swimming next year at Middlebury College in Vermont and vanHartesvelt plans to play water polo in college.
Islander freshman Eric Stadius also medaled, taking 14th in the 100-yard backstroke (57.78).
With just three seniors leaving the team, the Islanders have a chance to take a third consecutive state title next year.
“We have to go back to work and set new goals,” said Lowell. “It starts after the mid-winter break.”
The Islanders also had an honor bestowed to a swimmer not even at the meet. Andy Lloyd, who graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1989, was inducted into the WIAA swimmers Hall of Fame.