The goal at the beginning of the year was obvious for the Mercer Island boys swim and dive team, to win the state championship. The Islanders did just that, beating out Bainbridge 313-289.5 to win the 3A state title on Feb. 22 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
The win snapped Bainbridge’s streak of three straight titles, including a narrow 14-point victory over Mercer Island at the state meet last year. Mercer Island head coach Jennie King said last season fueled their fire this time around.
“When you lose that closely, and have that bitter disappointment, you don’t want to taste that again,” King said. “You want to taste victory.”
Before state, King said the team was focused on what it would feel like to win rather than what it’s like to lose.
“We really focused on the feeling of winning and being a champion, more than the feeling of losing,” King said. “Focusing on the positive, rather than focusing on the negative.”
At state, the two teams were neck-and-neck for most of the night, and at one point it looked like Bainbridge could be on its way to another state title, but the depth and talent pushed Mercer Island to the victory.
“They had perseverance, they had to overcome obstacles,” King said. “It didn’t go perfectly, it didn’t fall into place exactly as we wanted it to and they were still able to do what they needed to do and come up really big when we needed big swims. They were really mentally tough, and that speaks volumes for who they are and their character.”
Late in the meet, the Islanders got two big swims in the 100-yard breaststroke from the Ralston brothers, Collin and Emmett. Collin, a junior, took first with a time of 55.70, which broke a school record held by Tom Campbell (1990). Emmett, a freshman, finished fourth (57.68), giving the Islanders valuable points. King said for a freshman to come up that big in a pressure situation was clutch.
“We needed those points,” King said. “(Emmett) swam an incredible lifetime best while basically carrying the whole team on his shoulders.”
Mercer Island has received big swims from freshmen all season long, and that was no different at state. Along with Emmett, fellow freshmen Matthew Shield, Joe Torky, Evan Liu and alternate Matt Williamson were all part of the state team. King said the performance of the freshmen swimmers all season and at state bodes well for the future of Mercer Island swimming.
“Our young swimmers are the foundation for our future and they’re just getting started,” King said.
King said it was a total team victory because in a close meet, it takes every swimmer doing their job to have success.
The state title also was the perfect ending for the senior swimmers on the team. After close defeats the last two years, King said she wanted the seniors to get a taste of success before they leave the program.
“I wanted them to feel that high note, that success, that victory,” King said. “I’m so, so happy for them. They’ve worked so hard, they’re such good leaders, especially our captains.”
King said that without the leadership and swims from the captains, the state championship wouldn’t have been possible.
While there were plenty of memorable swims, King said her biggest takeaway was the sportsmanship the team showed. King said the team kept their celebrations subdued out of respect for Bainbridge.
“They knew how it felt to get second and they were subdued and thoughtful,” King said. “They all waited for Bainbridge to get their second-place awards. They waited for them and shook everyone’s hand after they got off the podium. They showed such maturity and sportsmanship when they really could have let loose.”
For King, a former swimmer on the Mercer Island girls swim and dive team, it’s a special feeling to add another year onto the state championship banner at Mary Wayte Pool.
“I’m so proud of that,” King said. “It feels amazing. I hope we get many more up there.”