Mercer Island boys swim crushes points record for state title

Tyler Benster, left, Beau Riebe, center, Murray Longbotham and Islander teammates hoist the boys 3A swimming state championship trophy, their fourth consecutive title, at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on Feb. 21. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Tyler Benster, left, Beau Riebe, center, Murray Longbotham and Islander teammates hoist the boys 3A swimming state championship trophy, their fourth consecutive title, at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on Feb. 21.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Mercer Island boys swim team coach Jeff Lowell and four seniors, Alex Hoff, Murray Longbotham, Kyle Schaeffer and Tyler Benster huddled behind the starting blocks following Saturday night’s state meet at the King County Aquatic Center. The conversation was private, but the emotional sentiment spoke volumes about the relay team and what the swim team as a whole had accomplished during the previous three hours.

The Islanders won their fourth consecutive state title by scoring a record 475 points and living up to very high expectations. The mark breaks the team’s record set last year by more than 100 points, and it was the fourth consecutive state championship for the Islanders. The next closest team, Mount Rainier, scored just 208 points.

The emotion of the final race for Lowell was evident during the 30 seconds that he stared in amazement at the scoreboard with tears welling up in his eyes. The event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, was not even close. The Islander team set a new state record for any classification with a time of 3:06.71. The mark breaks a record set by another Islander relay team in 2003. The Automatic All-American time was more than eight seconds better than the second team to touch the wall.

The swim and the meet was toughest for Longbotham. The senior entered the final competition of his high school career with a flu that had knocked six other swimmers on his team from competition.

“I knew it was going to hurt,” said Longbotham, who has won 10 state titles, including two individual races. “But this was our goal, and I wasn’t going to let them down.”

Longbotham’s performance prior to the swim was below his personal expectations, visibly frustrating, but extraordinary nonetheless.

The biggest frustration came from the senior’s second-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle by one-one-hundredths of a second. Longbotham still posted an All-American time of 1:40.38, despite swallowing water at one point during the race. The University of Washington bound swimmer took his frustration out in the 100-yard butterfly by winning the state title with an All-American Automatic time of 50.82, a full second faster than the second-place teammate, Benster (51.82).

The medal podium looked more like an awards ceremony for a relay team than an individual event, as Mercer Island took four of the top five spots. Schaeffer finished fourth in the event (53.06) and junior Taylor Seidel took fifth (53.31).

Longbotham led a litany of Islanders to the finals of the butterfly, as Schaeffer took third (1:43.50), Chris Picardo took seventh (1:48.11) and Eric Benca took 11th place (1:48.54).

One of the most gratifying wins for any Islander came when Hoff won his first individual state title by setting a state record in the 100-yard backstroke with an All-American time of 49.79.

“I had kind of been in the shadows to start the year, but it is great to be able to leave my mark,” said Hoff, who will swim for the University of Michigan next year.

Hoff also placed second during the 200-yard individual medley with an All-American time of 1:50.45.

The Islanders also had Benca finish in sixth (54.98), Eric Stadius ninth (55.74) and freshman Quinn Markwith 11th (57.13) during the event.

Hoff, Longbotham, Andy Wingerson and Ian Fisk set a state meet record in the 200-yard medley relay with an All-American time of 1:34.25. Fisk, Schaeffer, Will Voit and Duncan Howard combined to complete the Islander sweep of the relays with an All-American Consideration time of 1:27.71 in the 200-yard freestyle relay.

Mercer Island senior Beau Riebe successfully defended his state diving title by scoring 445.75 points during the event.

“Last year it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” said Riebe. “This year I was a little more nervous. But both were amazing.”

Mercer Island sophomores Jimmy Deiparine (1:01.38) and Wingerson (1:01.50) made a statement during the 100-yard breaststroke by finishing second and third, respectively. Islander Inar Zhang finished 10th overall during the event (1:03.03).

The 100 and 50-yard freestyles were dominated by Mercer Island resident and Eastside Catholic sophomore Ethan Hallowell, who earned All-American times in each race. The Crusader took first in the 50 in 20.58 seconds and in the 100 with a time of 45.26.

“I was a little tired from the 50,” said Hallowell, who has won four individual state titles in two years and helped Eastside to a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay. “I think the sky is the limit.”

Fisk finished second in the 100 with an All-American time of 46.23 and fifth in the 50 (21.73).

The 100 also yielded three consolation finalists for Mercer Island as Alex Tao took 12th (49.41), with Voit in 14th place (49.86) and Brian Williamson in 15th (50.34).

The 200-yard individual medley also saw Islanders Seidel (fifth - 1:57.79), Wingerson (seventh - 2:00.58) and Deiparine (10th - 2:02.66) finish strong. Deiparine’s race might have been the most impressive, as he dropped 2.5 seconds from his prelim time.

“I was just able to focus,” said Deiparine.

Islander Matt Wiens stepped to the medal podium for the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:52.27. Picardo (10th - 4:50.29), freshman Michael Bower (15th - 4:59.90) and Benster (16th - 5:02.95) also scored for Mercer Island during the event.

In all, Mercer Island occupied 31 lanes out of 128, one from the absolute maximum, during individual final and consolation final races. Seventeen of those 31 were event finals.

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