Mercer Island boys swim has no equal

Returning members from the 2008 state champion boys swim team, above, are expected to lead the Islanders this season. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Returning members from the 2008 state champion boys swim team, above, are expected to lead the Islanders this season.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

During the past three seasons, no team in Washington state has been able to touch Mercer Island boys swimming. The chasm between Mercer Island and all the other teams has grown to record proportions — this year, it could be bigger.

The Islanders won state last winter by a record 204-point margin, and the team will return with all of the athletes who won individual gold during the meet.

“We aren’t really talking about [a national title],” said Mercer Island coach Jeff Lowell. “I want them to perform. Focusing on anything else takes away from the steps we have to take. I don’t, and they don’t, want to waste a single stroke.”

But anything could be in play this year for the Islanders, including state records, national records and maybe even that national title.

“We want to see how high we can raise the bar,” said Islander Kyle Schaeffer.

Raising the bar means going after the national record in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

That goal of perfection does not stop with the four boys on the relay team. Schaeffer said that a gold cap is rewarded every meet to the swimmer who improves the most.

“Each guy wants to break personal records,” said Islander Chris Picardo. “There is less focus on placing than just racing against the clock.”

That swimmer could be Schaeffer of Longbotham, and it could also be a freshman trying a new event.

“None of us want to be one of the crowd,” said Schaeffer.

The group that will lead the team is one of the strongest in the history of Mercer Island swimming. Defending state champion in the 200-yard freestyle Murray Longbotham, who just signed to swim at the University of Washington, is hungry for more. Islander Beau Riebe comes into the season as the defending state champion in diving. Islanders Alex Hoff, who has committed to the University of Michigan, Tyler Benster, Alex Tao, Ian Fisk, Eric Stadius, Duncan Howard, Will Voit, Eric Benca, Andy Wingerson, James Deiparine and Mike Terentjev will all contribute to the team in big ways.

“When 3:30 hits they are in the pool,” said Lowell. “I don’t even have to do anything. They are that focused.”

Lowell insists that complacency will not be a problem with this team despite the fact that they will have very few challenges from outside the team.

“We know that when we step on the deck we are going to win a dual meet,” said Lowell. “So I challenge them to do other stuff.”

That other stuff includes trying to qualify for state in any and every possible event. Last year the Islanders took one third to a half of all the slots for finals events and consolation finals at state. This year those numbers could grow.

“We want o be the best we can be,” said Schaeffer. “We could have stopped after the diving competition last year and still would have won the meet. But we have to ignore that sort of stuff if we want to reach our potential.”

The team lost just one key senior from the 2007-08 team. That senior will be replaced by a year of maturity and a large freshman class.

“It has been fun so far,” said Lowell. “We have a bunch of new guys and they know the opportunity that is staring them in the face.”

Mercer Island had over 60 kids turnout for the team. But with that many boys there are some pitfalls the squad will have to avaoid.

“We have to make sure that we have a place for everyone of them,” said Lowell.

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