A shot at multiple individual state champions?

This winter season so far has been a perfect example of why I love sports: Anything can happen. After being a sports editor at a weekly paper for a couple of years, you get used to the ebb and flow of the sports year.

Outdoors during the busiest season of the year, spring, your fingers grow numb in March while noting the strikeouts and who won the pole vault.

The summers on Mercer Island are pretty fun, with little kids swimming and retired folks battling for softball supremacy.

Fall is filled with rain, rain and more rain. Running ink during football games, cancelled and rescheduled tennis meets and praying for a swim meet for a dry opportunity to write.

When the winter season rolls around, I am ecstatic to have all the game coverage indoors.

For someone who may not love sports as I do, the monotony of season after season and team after team trying to accomplish the same basic goals may get boring. For most, when you get away from the mainstream sports such as basketball, football and baseball, the ``not-so-spectator-friendly'' competitions can be tedious.

But the thing that I love is when a season comes around like the one we are in right now. It is a season of great hope for some athletes who may not get as much exposure in their respective sports as say basketball, football or baseball players. The Islander high school teams have a legitimate shot at four state champions in individual competition.

The first of those four individuals is Jesse Johnson. The senior, who took third at state last year during the Mat Classic at 215 pounds, has dominated his competition this season. Johnson is dedicated to his team's success this season and defending the 3A KingCo title it won in 2003-2004. But Johnson's focus on the mat has been even more intense than last season, learning from every situation. Johnson's experience last season at the Mat Classic can only help him this year.

The second athlete who has a shot at a state title also earned some good experience last season at state for the Islanders. Ashley Wedlake took eighth in state at the 3A level for Mercer Island last year and looks to be headed back to try for the big prize. Her scores have consistently risen this year from 34.20 to 34.90 to 35.25 in all-around competition. In fact, the only event that Wedlake has not seen improvement every time is vault, where she has done an 8.5, 9.2 and an 8.8. Nevertheless, her 9.2 was the second highest of the season for her team thus far this year. A team that may have five athletes in the Tacoma Dome exhibition center for the state meet.

The third athlete is also a gymnast. Kelsey Ingram is only a junior, but her scores have been consistently among the best in KingCo thus far this season. Ingram posted a 37.10 in all-around competition against Newport Dec. 8. Ingram took last year off high school competition and improved her skills with her club team. Ingram came back to the team this season and has been pushing Wedlake for the top spot on the team. Among her best scores this year were a 9.55 on floor against Issaquah during the first meet of the season, a 9.6 on beam against Newport, an 8.8 on bars and a 9.4 on vault.

Wedlake and Ingram are joined by all-around gymnasts and freshmen Olivia Harvey, Galit Almosnino and Mimi Maritz, along with the rest of the gymnastics team, to earn some of the highest scores that the Islanders have posted in a long time as a team. In fact, head coach Lenny Lewis said that the team has a great chance to break the school's record for team score at 172.1. Presently the Islanders are the second best team in the state by score to only Bainbridge Island, which has posted a season high of 171. The Islanders' best score of the year thus far was 168.65 against Newport.

The fourth and final athlete who could win a state title, could win two. Islander junior Tamon Page has resumed the lead as the swim team's best competitor this year. Last season, Page took second in state in the 100-yard butterfly and third in the 100-yard backstroke.

Page was on track from the first meet. The junior qualified for the state meet in both events during the team's first meet of the season against Snohomish High School at Mary Wayte Pool. If Page can improve slightly in those events this season, the state meet at the King County Aquatic's Center could be big.

The prospect of winning a state title is daunting for any athlete no matter how dominant or how much focus they have. In winning an individual state title, the athlete must be on their game that exact day and their is no room for mistakes. To say that these athletes have a shot at the state crown in their individual event or sport is exactly that -- a shot, one shot. But to have so many athletes in three separate sports at this high of a level in one season -- a season with just five sports -- is unusual. I like watching these kids grow up and mature as athletes. The hope and determination they bring to every meet brings out the best in sports for me.

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