State titles not enough for boys swim

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islanders boys’ swim 400-yard freestyle relay team, from left, Tyler Benster, Murray Longbotham, Alex Hoff and Ian Fisk will go after the state title and possibly the state record in the process. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islanders boys’ swim 400-yard freestyle relay team, from left, Tyler Benster, Murray Longbotham, Alex Hoff and Ian Fisk will go after the state title and possibly the state record in the process.
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Dynasty is a strong word to describe any sports program. But the word dynasty might be an understatement when talking about the Mercer Island High School boys swim team.

The fact that the Islanders have won the past two state titles would not qualify the team as a dynasty. The fact that they won the last championship by 126 points over the next closest team and subsequently won a national title doesn’t qualify. But all of those things together qualifies the team for the label of dynasty.

“They are more focused than last year,” said Mercer Island head coach Jeff Lowell.

That statement, along with the fact that the team lost just three state meet qualifiers from last year, has to scare every other team in the state. Of those three swimmers, none finished in the top eight in individual state events.

“They will see their best competition in practice,” said Lowell. “They are all on each other because they want everyone to be a part of this season.”

One of the biggest challenges for Lowell could be putting together the relay teams.

“We have 100 different combinations, so it will take some time to sort that out,” said Lowell, whose team won state titles in two of the three relay events.

Maybe the scariest part of this team is the strength of the junior class. Murray Longbotham leads the way as the defending 400-yard freestyle state champion. But he has his eyes on bigger things for his team and himself.

“We want to be recognized nationally,” said Longbotham. “We have a chance to make history.”

Longbotham’s goals are lofty, such as placing in the top 100 nationally in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events. The idea of four state titles for Longbotham, as a junior, in two individual and two relay events, is not out of the realm of possibility.

“We are training harder than last year,” said Longbotham. “Everyone is extremely motivated.”

The national record in the 400-yard freestyle relay is something that Longbotham, Alex Hoff, Tyler Benster and Ian Fisk have pondered.

“If we stay focused during the next two seasons we might get there,” said Longbotham.

For the second year in a row, the Islanders have a thin lineup in the senior class. But the seniors that are there will contribute heavily to the team. Kirk Harbaugh leads the way as a captain and placed at state last year in the 100-yard backstroke. Seniors Chris Ferrell, Brian Harmon and Mike Camp (diving) will enter their final year with the team and hopes to place at state.

“They lead by example, and they set the tone outside of the pool,” said Lowell.

One Islander who will compete alongside Camp is Beau Riebe. The junior diver has unfinished business at state, as he has placed second during the past two seasons. Ailments and one of the best divers in state history were the only thing between Riebe and taking his rightful place at the top of the podium at state.

“It comes down to whoever is on at state,” said Riebe. “I am going to work as hard as I can.”

Riebe’s chronic battle with tonsillitis led to the removal of his tonsils just prior to the preseason.

“I was out of diving for a week and a half, but I don’t have to worry about being sick any more,” said Riebe.

Many other juniors have their sights set on state in individual events such as Hoff, Chris Picardo, Tyler Benster, Kyle Schaeffer and Alex Tao.

“Hoff is 20 pounds stronger, heads and shoulders better than last year,” said Lowell.

The sophomore class may be the key to the team’s overall success. Many of the swimmers, like Eric Stadius, Will Voit, Duncan Howard and Ian Fisk make an impact in their first season on varsity. Lowell knows that they will fill the team’s gaps.

But the team will have to stay focused this season despite 100-plus point in-league victories and long days of practice.

“I let them know that they are only as good as they are that day,” said Lowell.

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