Originally published September 26, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified September 27, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Mercer Island, Skyline again floating title hopes

Community support, proven coaches and a steady flow of talent keep the defending state champion Islanders and Spartans on top.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Girls swimming powers Mercer Island and Skyline met in a dual meet for only the second time last week.

The results — a 95-91 Skyline win last year, a 115-71 Mercer Island victory last week, both at Mary Wayte Pool on Mercer Island — are of moderate consequence.

Both teams are focused on bigger prizes.

Mercer Island has won back-to-back Class 3A state championships. Skyline has won back-to-back 4A titles. Neither would be in that position without underlying support that keeps both high-school programs rising to the top of the state year after year.

Skyline benefits from a confluence of geography and club-swimming feeder systems. Summer-league teams, travel opportunities and an ingrained swimming culture all help the Sammamish school.

"Because of the boundaries of the school, they end up at Skyline," said Susan Simpkins, the Spartans' third-year coach. "That's where these girls all come from."

Mercer Island, as well, uses youth programs to develop its swimmers from an early age.

"The kids start really young — 5, 6, 7 years old, being part of the swim team," said Chauntelle Johnson, the Islanders' third-year coach. "Granted, not all of them continue to swim all the way to high school, but because they started so young they understand a lot of the basics of the sport.

"So we don't spend a lot of time at the high-school level talking about the basics. Talking about what the events are, what legal strokes look like. Almost all of the kids have raced before and come into the program ready to go."

Once swimmers reach high school, some coaches use dry-land techniques to bolster what takes place in the water. Skyline has a specific dry-land coach who puts the girls through workouts that include weight lifting, running and other power-development techniques.

Mercer Island doesn't do much dry-land work.

Both schools win.

One challenge for coaches is managing the emotions of 85-plus girls on the team. It's a challenge as the season progresses from dual meets to the KingCo championships, then district and state meets.

"There's sometimes a lot of drama," Simpkins said. "So far this year, it's been a very pleasant year."

Skyline has a blend of dominant individuals and relays again this season. Senior Katie Kinnear, just back from swimming in Japan with the National Club Swimming Association travel team, won state titles last year in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly.

She was also part of the state-championship 200 medley and 400 free relays. Three members of the 200 medley relay are back, and all four members of the 400 free relay return.

Simpkins said she must work on keeping her team motivated after a championship year.

"They do need to be re-motivated, because it's a typical kid: 'We've done it once, we'll do it again,' " the Skyline coach said. "Every year, more kids are coming up and kids are coming in from all over the place, and girls have improved. So, you just never know."

The perennially powerful Islanders, meanwhile, have built further depth this season. It was a key in beating Skyline last week.

At the end of the season, one certainty is that both schools will be among a select handful of contenders for state team championships — again.

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