Mercer Island senior Ellie Bailey (pink cap) and sophomore Austin Whelan (black cap) swim the 200-meter individual medley during the Islanders victory over Sammamish on Oct. 3. Photo courtesy of Allison Nelson

Mercer Island senior Ellie Bailey (pink cap) and sophomore Austin Whelan (black cap) swim the 200-meter individual medley during the Islanders victory over Sammamish on Oct. 3. Photo courtesy of Allison Nelson

Mercer Island looks to make a splash before postseason

Islanders have a deep team under head coach Chauntelle Johnson.

There is a mixture of old and new faces on the Mercer Island girls swim and dive team, but for head coach Chauntelle Johnson, they were all new.

Johnson is back coaching the girls swim team at Mercer Island for the first time since stepping away in 2015. During her six seasons as head coach, the girls team won five 3A state titles.

Though Johnson is familiar with the program, she said returning to coach the swim program felt similar and different at the same time.

“None of these girls were on the team when I coached previously,” Johnson said. “I feel like every kid on the team is new to me.”

Going into the season, Johnson wasn’t sure how the older swimmers would react to new leadership.

“I think I was a little bit nervous on the front end of the season about the girls accepting me and a new set of coaches,” Johnson said. “We have three other new coaches, so I was really nervous about how the girls that have been on the team would accept similar, but also different, styles of coaching. I’ve been surprised at how well that transition has happened.”

In the past, Johnson said the Islanders have relied on their team depth, something she doesn’t see changing this year.

“One of the things that has always been a strength for us has been our depth,” Johnson said. “We have had state champions, relay wins, All-Americans and all of that. But at the end of the day, what has helped us win team state titles and constantly place high at the state meet as a team has been our depth.”

The Islanders have had success through the first part of the season thanks to the veteran swimmers and a talented group of divers.

“Our senior class has really taken the team on its shoulders,” Johnson said. “We’ve also been very lucky because our divers are incredibly strong. We have done really well at our meets because of our divers. Our dive coach, has done a really great job of preparing the girls for all of our meets.”

The key swimmers for the team include Cayla Prophater, Grace Olsen, Hailey Vandenbosch and Elizabeth Bailey, but Johnson said the team’s depth means different girls are able to put up good times.

“We have a lot of kids that on any given day or any given meet can step up and do what we need,” Johnson said.

The swim team is the biggest group that Johnson has ever coached in her two years as an assistant coach and six years as the head coach. Even though there are 88 girls on the team, Johnson said every one of them plays an important role.

“We have girls that won’t even make a postseason time, but if that girl is getting better and working hard, then the girl next to her is motivated to work hard,” Johnson said.

Mercer Island will be hosting the KingCo Championship Finals on Nov. 2 at Mary Wayte Pool. When they face tough opponents in their remaining meets or in the postseason, Johnson wants the team to work on the small things and focus on themselves instead of their opponents.

“We are going to be the best version of Mercer Island that we can be,” Johnson said. “I think that version of Mercer Island is really competitive within the state and can beat a lot of people.”

Johnson said she expects to see the team continue to improve before the postseason.

“They have done an amazing job of being at practices and working hard,” Johnson said. “I have no doubt that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of what the results are going to be as we continue toward the end (of the season).”

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