By Amber Eikel
Special to the Reporter
State championship, national title, All-American, exceptional talent: Those are just a few of the words used when people talk about this year’s Mercer Island High School (MIHS) girls swim and dive team.
“We’re unlike any other team out there,” said junior Isabel Peng after a recent team practice at the Mary Wayte Pool.
Peng, who had just finished a series of strenuous 100-yard sets she likes to call the “Island Grinder,” was relaxed and humble when asked about the team’s success.
“It really is so special to see swimmers of this caliber swim, but I’m really focusing on having fun and not putting too much pressure on myself,” she said.
That pressure is easy to handle for an experienced team that had a historic run in 2022, winning the 3A state swim and dive title with the highest point total in state history. The team took second place nationally in its division and 14th overall. This year, they are aiming to take the top spot.
“We are just a seasoned team,” said head coach Chauntelle Johnson. “We have a lot of experience coming back on the swimming side.”
Six All-American swimmers have returned for the 2023 season, and at least two members of the team are Olympic hopefuls. Expectations are high, but so far the team has delivered, dominating its first two meets of the season. MIHS beat Renton’s Hazen High School, 141-40, and Sammamish’s Skyline High School, 140-46.
Several swimmers have also already qualified for the state championship meet, including Peng in the 100-yard butterfly and sophomore Gracyn Kehoe in the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly. The relay teams for the 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle also have state-qualifying times.
Despite the exceptional talent, the team stays grounded by supporting each other.
“Look at the culture. We’re all yelling on the deck and it sounds like a swim meet at the end of practice,” said Johnson.
“To hear everyone screaming even if you didn’t swim your best time…to know that there is that endless, unconditional support for you all the time is really special,” added Peng.
For the first time, and with the help of local sponsors, the team will be traveling to the Midwest during the regular season to compete against two nationally recognized high school swim teams. In October, they will swim against the Illinois state champions, New Trier High School, and the state runner up in Wisconsin, Brookfield East High School.
Coach Johnson says competing against other strong swim teams will help the squad prepare for the state championships later this year, but becoming the top high school swim team in the nation is not just a goal for 2023.
“My favorite thing about being a part of the program is the future,” she said. “Anybody that’s willing to work hard and wants to listen and get better, and is willing to be uncomfortable, finds themselves happy here.”
For Peng, it’s a love of the sport that goes well beyond the pool.
“This team really builds your character both as a swimmer and as a person, and some of the best people I know are on this team,” she said.
You can support the team by attending their upcoming home meets at Mary Wayte Pool and following their journey on Instagram.com/mihsswive.