Islanders take new path in search of old result
By Doug Drowley
Special to The Seattle Times
A couple of weeks ago, the Mercer Island boys swim team showed up for practice and was worried.
Instead of instructing her team to get dressed and into the pool, coach Chauntelle Johnson took them outside on the grounds of the country club at the south end of the island.
“We saw all these military hats, and stuff,” senior freestyle specialist Ian Caldwell said. “We thought we were going to have to do some sort of boot camp. We all thought, this is not going to be a fun day.”
Far from being one of their toughest practice days, however, the Islanders instead experienced one of their most fun.
“I kept it a surprise the whole time,” Johnson said. “The boys had just been working so hard. So we played laser tag one day for practice.”
The activity was something Johnson said she never remembered doing anything like previously for a practice session. But different is not new for the 2014-15 version of the Mercer Island squad.
“This season has been so different,” Johnson said. “But it’s also been one of the most fun seasons I’ve had coaching. We lost so many seniors after last year. But these guys are really focused on trying to improve. It’s just been really fun and light-hearted.”
At the heart of this group of 38 Islanders, down from around 60 a year ago, is Caldwell. The senior has competed at the state meet every year for Mercer Island, in the 100 and 200 yard freestyles.
Caldwell currently is qualified for the 50 and 100 frees at the 3A state meet that begins at King County Aquatic Center on February 20.
“But there’s always room for more,” Caldwell said. “I really like all the freestyles.”
Whether sprinting or distance racing, Caldwell will be a big part of things if the Islanders are to make a run at another state title. Mercer Island recaptured the 3A crown a year ago after having lost the title to Lakeside two seasons in a row.
Prior to that stretch, the Islanders won six consecutive championships.
This season, the approach has been slightly different. The graduation of 24 seniors off the 2013-14 squad has had an impact.
“This senior class has only seven boys,” Johnson said. “But they’re all excited for what’s going on. We did lose those seniors, but we didn’t lose some of the culture things that we do at Mercer Island.”
The biggest item on that culture list also may seem one of the most simple.
“It’s just being a team,” Johnson said. “You’ve heard me says this every year. But it’s knowing we can be so much better as a group than we can be as individuals. And I think these guys have just bought in.”
Though the numbers may be down, the success is not. Mercer Island continues to win. They’ve already beaten defending 4A champ Newport in a dual meet this season. Next Tuesday, the Islanders will swim powerhouse Bellevue for the 3A Kingco dual meet championship at Mary Wayte Pool.
Then the post-season begins, and what Johnson hopes will be another strong run.
“To be honest, I think it would just be good if we bring home a trophy,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t have to be the big one.”
But winning another championship wouldn’t hurt.
“There are two ways … well, really one way to win a title,” Johnson said. “The team that scores the most points wins. But there are two ways to do that. When you don’t have a ton of kids (to win with depth points), you’ve got to win events. That’s not necessarily how we’ve gone about it. But I think we have kids that can win events.”