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Originally published Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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3A Boys Swimming | Mercer Island swamps the field

This record had stared these four Mercer Island seniors in the face for four years. Every day at the Mercer Island practice pool, they had...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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FEDERAL WAY — This record had stared these four Mercer Island seniors in the face for four years. Every day at the Mercer Island practice pool, they had to look at that time of 3 minutes, 6.96 seconds, the state-record finish by the 2003 Islanders team in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

They knew this event, the final one of Saturday's Class 3A boys swimming and diving championships, would be the climax of a record-breaking four years. When the anchor, senior Tyler Benster, jumped in the pool, the record looked beatable.

"I've never been so psyched up, stressed out, nervous and ecstatic in my life," Benster said. "I've been waiting to swim that race the last three years."

As he made his final turn for the last 25 yards, the King County Aquatic Center was about to erupt. Then Benster touched, and as he looked up, he heard the roar.

Their time: 3:06.71. A new state record, the Islanders' second of the night. It capped their fourth consecutive team title and what must be considered one of the most dominant performances in state history. With 475 points, the Islanders destroyed the record of 374 they set last year.

They also set a record for margin of victory, finishing 267 points ahead of second-place Mount Rainier.

"That's crazy," Mercer Island diver Beau Riebe said. "It feels awesome that we put our place in history. ... I know it will take one hell of a team to break it."

Before breaking the record in the 400 free relay, the Islanders absolutely smashed one in the 200 medley relay, the night's first event. Finishing in 1:34.25, Mercer Island took more than a second off the record they set Friday in the preliminaries.

"I think the first relay was more impressive because it showed we can dominate everything," said senior Alexander Hoff.

The Islanders also had three individual champions: Hoff in the 100 backstroke, Riebe in diving and senior Murray Longbotham — suffering from a cold — in the 100 butterfly.

Had it not been for Mercer Island's record meet, the night would have belonged to three defending champs who won two events apiece.

Lakeside's Harvard-bound senior Owen Wurzbacher easily won the 100 breaststroke, and before that, the 200 individual medley in one of the best races of the day.

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Hoff, the backstroke specialist, took the early lead, but Wurzbacher caught him in the breaststroke, his specialty, and then won by two-tenths of a second. Both knocked about three seconds of their personal bests.

"I knew Alex was gunning for it, and I just beat him out," Wurzbacher said.

Ethan Hallowell, a sophomore from Eastside Catholic, made it four state titles in just two meets as he defended his championships in the 50 and 100 free. His times of 20.58 and 45.26 were personal bests.

"I don't think it's hit me yet," Hallowell said. "If I could win both all four years, it would be amazing."

Mount Rainier's Mac Lowry defended his 500 free title and won the 200 free in the day's closest individual race. After Longbotham sped to the early lead, Lowry caught him on the final turn and then out-touched him by one-hundredth of a second.

"My legs just felt burnt," Lowry said. "It was just so close, I had to stay in it."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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