The measure of high school greatness

Above, Islander Murray Longbotham has signed a letter of intent to swim at the University of Washington next year. Right, Islander Alex Hoff has signed a letter of intent to swim for the University of Michigan next year. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Above, Islander Murray Longbotham has signed a letter of intent to swim at the University of Washington next year. Right, Islander Alex Hoff has signed a letter of intent to swim for the University of Michigan next year.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

There are many ways to quantify how good the Mercer Island boys swim team has become. Three consecutive state titles, national championships and state records are just a few of the team’s accomplishments. But maybe one of the most tangible accomplishments will take place next year. Three seniors have already signed letters of intent to swim at NCAA Division I schools. The Islanders also have at least five other swimmers with a good chance to compete at one of the highest levels that the sport has to offer.

“Those three swimmers in particular were well sought after,” said Mercer Island coach Jeff Lowell. “It is the first time I have had coaches come out to scout.”

Beau Reibe to the Air Force Academy

It was a stressful meet for Islander Beau Reibe when the Air Force Academy’s dive coach came to Mercer Island just to see him. His first meeting came last season.

“It was definitely nerve-racking,” said Reibe. “I was just trying to impress him. I remember telling all my teammates not to point at him or make a big deal out of it.”

The Air Force Academy was not Reibe’s only suitor, as the Navy also made an attempt to sign the defending state champion in one-meter diving.

“To be honest, there have been so many times I wanted to quit,” said Reibe. “I have been diving for 13 or 14 years, and you get sick of it. Sometimes, I would be out on that board just for the goal to dive in college. I know I got in because of my diving, because my grades are not top-notch. But this will set me up to do what I really want to do.”

Reibe’s ambition is to become a pilot.

The choice of the Air Force may start a family rivalry, as his older brother went to the Naval Academy and his father served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

“The coach is really cool and down to earth,” said Reibe, who will attempt to defend his state title in March. “It will be weird defending something, but I am just going to go out and do what I have always done.”

Alex Hoff to the University of Michigan

A life’s worth of practices and chlorine binds these three athletes. But for Alex Hoff, that lifestyle may end up lasting longer — at least, he hopes so. Hoff is one swimmer on the team who has accomplished a lot but has even more potential to tap into. Lowell said that Michigan is consistently one of the top 10 men’s swimming programs in the nation.

“I have been told that I haven’t begun to tap my potential, and that is why I am going to [the University of] Michigan,” said Hoff. “They have the best sprint coach in the United States. It is really a package deal for me.”

Hoff’s goals in picking a school were not only for the athletics but also for his academics. Hoff will study business, and the University of Michigan has the third best business school in the country.

“Everything just fell into place,” said Hoff. “This is pretty much what I have been working toward my entire life.”

Hoff said that he knows he did not get into the University of Michigan strictly on his grades. But the senior feels that he substituted three hours of studying after school for practice, making him more well-rounded.

Hoff is the only MI swimmer who has signed a letter of intent and has not won an individual state title. The senior has won gold at the state championships in a relay.

Hoff said that he would like a chance to compete for a spot on the United States Olympic team. Some of his coaches at Michigan have trained Olympic swimmers.

“Right now, I am good but not great,” said Hoff. “I want to be great.”

Murray Longbotham to the University of Washington

Islander Murray Longbotham might be the most well known of the three swimmers to sign a letter of intent. Longbotham has already won multiple state titles and will go for more this March. He has been the most dominant male swimmer for Mercer Island since Sean Sussex, who graduated in 2003 and attended the University of Southern California, where he swam for four years.

“I haven’t had someone sign at a Division I school since Sean, so it has been a while,” said Lowell.

Sussex competed to get on the United States Olympic team, something that Longbotham may also have the chance to do.

“I wanted a good team and a good coach, with a specialized training program to help me become the best I can be,” said Longbotham.

The choice of the UW may be good for Longbotham for many reasons. The biggest reason is its potential.

“The University of Washington is one of the top 25 schools, and they are getting better,” said Lowell.

The senior also had some hesitations in choosing the University of Washington. Hec Ed Pool was first and foremost in his mind. Hec Ed is old and not one of the elite pools in the Pac-10.

“Many swimmers won’t come to the UW because of Hec Ed,” said Longbotham. “But it doesn’t bother me.”

Longbotham’s friends urged him to choose a college further from home.

“I love it here,” said Longbotham. “People said ‘move away,’ but I just like it here.”

Ironically, Longbotham had his doubts about whether or not he would swim in college.

“I wasn’t sure anyone would want me,” said Longbotham. “But the UW came after me, and that made me feel good.”

The senior said that his goals are to make the NCAA championships and place in the top eight. Those top eight swimmers get a shot at the Olympic time trials.

Longbotham will follow another Islander to the UW, Tamon Page, who attended and swam for the school for four years.

Academics are a big reason why Longbotham chose the UW.

“Academically, it is a great school,” he said.

But the payoff of making it to the college level may not just be motivation for the three who have signed letters.

“I think that it helps others be committed to doing what we do every day,” said Longbotham. “It shows the younger guys what is possible.”

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