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A legend leaves and youth rise up in 2007
Last year was full of records, the changing of the guard, national titles and youthful athletes that show a bright future for Mercer Island athletics.
Winter was cold, but many of the youth teams on the Island had record-setting seasons.
Easily the biggest story of the year came in February as Dick Nicholl retired from the Mercer Island High School football team after 33 years as its head coach.
Nicholl compiled a 177-113-2 record during his career, winning six KingCo titles. He also left tied for the most wins in KingCo league history with 158.
In 1985 his state quarterfinal team allowed the fewest during a regular season, nine, and finished a perfect 9-0. Nicholl is one of three coaches, including current boys basketball head coach Ed Pepple and former wrestling coach Paul Jackson, to coach for at least three decades at the high school. Mercer Island High School replaced Nicholl with veteran coach Bill Heglar, who is 63 years old and has more than 150 victories. Brett Ogata, a former Islander offensive coordinator and MIHS teacher who applied for the head coaching job, took a position at Skyline High School as the offensive coordinator. The Spartans would go on to win the state title in November. As a result of the coaching changes, 19-year line coach Mike Linker resigned to take a coaching job at Eastlake High School to be closer to home.
Boys swimming dominated the KingCo, district and state meets for the third straight year. Islander sophomore Murray Longbotham touched the wall during the state meet and watched his opponents come down the final length of the pool during the anchor leg of the 400-yard freestyle. The race was a microcosm of the season, as no other team was close to Mercer Island. The boys won the state meet by more than 100 points, the second in a row for the Islanders. The team would also be named National Champions in July by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.
The Mercer Island girls basketball team battled back from a 23-7 first half deficit against rival Newport to qualify for the playoffs with a 49-44 win in February. The win marked the largest comeback in the program’s history. Mercer Island would go on to districts for only the second time in six years, but miss the state playoffs. Islander center Georgia Gier announced that she would play basketball at Colgate University after graduation. During her first collegiate game in November she put up 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
The Mercer Island boys basketball team finishes their season in disappointing fashion with four consecutive losses during the postseason, missing the state playoffs for the third consecutive year. It was the first time in Pepple’s career at Mercer Island High School when his team has missed the state playoffs in three consecutive seasons. But the future looked bright for the program as the junior varsity boys basketball team finished the season 20-0. Another youth program showing potential was the middle school wrestling program. The Islander Middle School wrestling team won the Eastside Middle School league title for the first time by scoring 122 points during the championship meet.
During March, the annual Mercer Island Rotary Run Day turned out to be more of a swim meet than a foot race. But the buckets of rain failed to deter athletes from the 35th running of the race with 3,600 runners participating, nearly 15 percent more than the previous year’s total, which was an event record. The race day also held its first 10K. None of the Islander participants won an individual event, but Susan Empy, 38, took second for females in the Half Marathon with a time of 1:19.56, Islander Quinn Chasan, 16, took third in the 5K race with a time of 18:52, and Lindsay Benster, 13, took fourth for females in the 5K. Five of the top-10 female participants in the 5K were from Mercer Island. Empy would achieve an Olympic Trials qualifying time during an Oregon race in May.
The spring sports season started with a little bit of controversy and finished with some surprises. The Mercer Island boys lacrosse team began its season ranked No. 2 behind Bainbridge Island, despite winning the past three state titles. The Islanders lost to Bainbridge to begin the preseason, though, and would cut the gap between the two teams during the regular season. Mercer Island would lose during the state finals to the Spartans.
The girls lacrosse team had one of its finest seasons behind the coach of the year, who was also first year head coach and MIHS graduate, Megan Elston. The team set a program record for margin of victory with a 20-0 beat down of Bellevue during May but would lose in the state semi-finals to Bainbridge Island. Season-ending heartbreak was also prevalent in a few other sports during the spring season.
The girls golf team set a regular season record for wins with 11 but lost during the final meet of the regular season to Skyline. The loss gave the league title to the Spartans.
The Mercer Island girls water polo team was defeated during the state finals, 7-2, by Newport High School. It was just the second time in eight years when the Islanders did not win the state title. Mercer Island head coach Mike Goldstein resigned as head coach two weeks later, after just two years at the helm. A new coach has yet to be named.
A huge shootout victory, 2-1, put the Mercer Island boys soccer team in the state playoffs but the team would lose to the eventual champions, the Hazen Highlanders, during the first round.
The Islander girls softball team continued its decline with its first winless season in 2007 despite a new local coach, Jessica Steinle.
One team that avoided the season-ending spring curse was boys tennis. Senior Islanders Chris Bailey, Trevor Fulp and Chris Winterbauer completed a four-year odyssey with a boys tennis state title. Winterbauer and Fulp also won the team title, while Bailey took second in singles action. Islanders Amelia Carpenter and Michelle Zemplenyi teamed up to take third in state in girls doubles.
Gier and Mercer Island senior football player and lacrosse standout Greg Mahony were chosen as the Athletes of the Year by the high school coaching staff. Gier helped to transform the Mercer Island girls basketball program into a competitive varsity team with its trip to the district tournament and set multiple records including rebounds in a game, 20 against Sammamish High School. Gier was also a drum major for the Mercer Island band and played a key role on the water polo team.
Mahony finished his Islander football career with a 351-yard, six-touchdown performance against Seattle Prep and helped the lacrosse team to three state titles during his career. Mahony would announce his intention to play lacrosse for Colgate, but after playing in three National All-Star games, Mahony would settle on a year at Santa Clara and plans to transfer to and play for Yale. Mahony also graduated with a 3.94 GPA. Fulp and Lauren Govier were named Scholar Athletes of the Year. Fulp played basketball along with tennis and boasted a 3.908 GPA. Govier was a three-sport athlete, playing soccer, gymnastics and running track with a 3.88 GPA.
Outside of the high school former and future athletes, shined.
Former Mercer Island High School standout and Mount Baker Crew team member Jesse Johnson helped the University of Washington crew team to a National title. Four Mount Baker boats placed in the top 10 this year at Nationals.
The West Mercer Elementary track and field team won the All-Island Track Meet at Mercer Island High School during June.
The summer months were anything but quiet on Mercer Island with the Mercerwood Shore Club continued its dominance of the Midlakes swim league. Mercerwood won its fourth consecutive title, while the Mercer Island Country Club took third and the Beach Club fifth during the championship meet. The victory punctuated a season which saw Mercerwood win its 27th consecutive regular-season meet.
The annual Mercer Island 3-on-3 basketball tournament went through many changes this year with the High School Booster Clubs taking over the organization of the event. The tournament, which has traditionally been held at the Lid Park, was moved inside the Community Center at Mercerview. The event played host to over 100 athletes and 25 teams of girls and boys from around the area.
Mercer Island resident Charlie Kern won the Washington State Junior Golf Association title for 12- and 13-year-olds.
The fall sports season on Mercer Island would bring records, disappointment and domination.
One of the most dominating teams of the year was the 2006 MIHS volleyball team. The Islanders ran the table in KingCo and finished undefeated, including a heart-stopping five-game victory over Newport to close the season. The team would not lose a game until the district meet but did not place at state.
During a season with out a lot to cheer about for the Mercer Island football program, Islander Phillip Seda had a career night at Sammamish High School by running for 229 yards and two touchdowns. The total yards tied Mahony for second all-time for a single game performance. But the game was one of the few bright spots in a 2-8 season for the football team.
Islander Rachel Godfred earns Ironman status in just three meets for the Mercer Island girls swim team. The Islanders would go on to win both KingCo and the district meet and place second at state behind Godfred’s state championship in the 200-yard individual medley. The Islanders also won the state title in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
It was a disappointing season for the Mercer Island boys water polo team despite winning its 10th state title. The annual national tournament in San Diego that serves as a showcase for many players to college coaches was cancelled due to the wild fires in southern California.
This fall was the first time in four years when the Mercer Island boys tennis team did not have Winterbauer, Fulp or Bailey on the team. As a result, the young and inexperienced team finished second to Newport during the regular season, but the doubles team of Matt Ellis and Max Franklin took the No. 1 seed to districts from the KingCo tournament.
In cross country, the girls’ team re-emerged as a force at state with a seventh place finish, while Evan Sadler placed 16th overall at state for boys.