Winning a high-school sports championship during the summer may seem a bit out of the ordinary. But for the Mercer Island High School boys swim winning the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) National Championship falls right in line with its growing list of accomplishments and overall domination.
“The scary thing is that we were mostly made up of sophomores this year,” said Islander coach Jeff Lowell. “The guys on the team are pretty excited.”
The state title was the team’s second in as many years.
“This is special because it is our entire team,” said Islander junior Alex Hoff. “The state title does not utilize our entire team. It means that we are good as a whole and not just a select few.”
The National Championship is Mercer Island’s third, with the first two coming from 2001 to 2003.
“This next year is going to be tough,” said Islander Murray Longbotham. “It is just awesome to get to swim alongside such great swimmers. We still have it in our minds to do well the next years, but we still need to approach it as if we need to step. But this is huge motivation.”
The NISCA national title is not determined by just one meet. The scores are calculated by giving a point total to each swimmer’s best swim during the school year. The points run from 1 to 300 with 300 being faster than world record times. Mercer Island’s highest point total for one swim was 140. The calculation brings the word “team” to the forefront, making every swim and swimmer count toward the team’s title. Mercer Island scored 5,106 points to win the championship for public schools of the same size. And while the competition is entered on a strictly volunteer basis, most state championship and top-placing teams enter from every state.
Longbotham said that the team members plan on stitching an American flag on their letterman jackets to signify the championship.
“This validates how we run our program,” said Lowell. “For us, it is one through 54, every swimmer trying to improve every meet. We are not just waiting for the next superstar.”
Overall, Mercer Island placed in the top 30 in the nation regardless of public, private, school size or any other category. Fifteen of the top 25 teams in the nation overall were boarding schools, which are allowed to recruit said Lowell.
“This about never putting a cap on things and all of them always wanting to improve and move up,” said Lowell.
One team member that will only have one spot to move up next year is diver Beau Reibe, who took second at state for the second year in a row. Reibe earned another honor as the NISCA chose him as an All-American. The status is granted during the summer rather than after the swim season, as it requires a tape of performances be reviewed by a pool of experts, while swimming is based on a qualifying time. During the state meet, Longbotham qualified with as All-American Consideration (AAC) time (1:43.45) in the 200-yard freestyle and the Islanders’ 400-yard freestyle relay also earned an AAC (3:14.47).
The Islanders won the state title by nearly doubling the next closest team’s score (280-154). The win also keeps Washington state at the forefront of swimming as Mercer Island is joined by Mount Rainier, Sehome and Newport, which have all won national championships. The Mercer Island girls swim team won the title multiple times during the 1990s.
Despite the two state and a national title, the Mercer Island swimmers continue, even during summer break, to work hard toward next year’s season.
“I don’t want to be over confident about this,” said Hoff. “We still have two more years to work.”
The other thing that has been misplaced is the 2001-02 and 2002-03 season’s national title banners that should be hanging in the Mercer Island High School gymnasium.
“We have to get three now,” said Lowell.