Completing the dream | Girls swim striving for state title after second last year

The second-place finish at the state meet last year was a sign that the Mercer Island girls swim team’s climb to the top was almost complete. But the change in league format and the addition of 4A teams to the schedule will mean one thing for the Islanders — sink or swim.

Mercer Island Coach Jeff Lowell knows a thing or two about state titles, and he thinks his team will thrive in the more competitive situation.

“It will help us prepare a lot better,” said Lowell, who guided the boys team to the state title last season. “We will get great races throughout the season.”

The league realignment will mean that Mercer Island competes during the regular season with the likes of three-time defending 4A state champion Inglemoor High School. Subtracted will be some teams that the Islanders have steamrolled in the past few years, leaving very few teams without depth.

“One thing I like is that we don’t lose our rivalry with Newport,” said Lowell of the final meet of the season.

The KingCo championship meet will also take on a new level of competition. The Islanders, who have dominated the meet since its inception in 2003, will have a lot more work if they want to continue their streak.

“The competition will put us in a different boat,” said Lowell. “We will have four prelims at four different pools and then have the finals here.”

The increase in teams and swimmers will make it more difficult for the Islanders to dominate, but the team is not worried.

“Our league will be strong, but it will be fun because it will be more competitive,” said Mercer Island senior Charlotte Graham.

But the pressure of facing 4A teams will not have as big of an effect on the Islanders as some 3A teams. Mercer Island continues to have its biggest strength in its depth.

“It is important to take advantage of our large team because it has so much potential,” said Olivia Graham.

The Islanders lost some big names from last year, such as Melissa Chandless and Olivia Boeck. But Lowell expects to be able to fill holes with some of the underclassmen from last year, thanks to the girls’ work during the offseason.

“They look good technique-wise, and the kids who are here want to be here,” said Lowell.

Four athletes who have a lot invested into this season are Rachel Godfred, Sara Markwith, Olivia and Charlotte Graham. The four seniors have been named co-captains.

All eyes will be on Godfred during the regular season as she attempts to qualify for state in all eight individual events, or earn “Ironman” status for the third consecutive season. And while the Ironman may start to look easy for Godfred, she has bigger but more general plans to focus on.

“She just wants to keep getting better,” said Lowell. “She has really developed a couple of her strokes. She might have a good shot at some of the [Mercer Island] record from 1981.”

Many records could fall this year, and a state title is not out of the possibility.

“Kennedy still has a great squad,” said Lowell of the defending state champions. “The question is, how focused can we be on performance?”

Lowell wants his swimmers to be more concerned with how they swim than what place they finish.

The incoming freshmen will have time to work on their strokes and get acclimated to the grind of the high school swim season with the talent at the top. But Lowell sees good potential in the youngest of his swimmers.

“It will give them a chance to get a taste and then get hungry to compete,” said Lowell.

The Islanders are ready for the new challenges and changes that this season will present. The question is, are the other teams ready for the Islanders?

“We lost some pretty good leadership, but I think with our leadership and girls from the other grades, we will do well this season,” said Markwith.

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