High School Sports

Puyallup’s 200-yard freestyle relay gang hope to topple state record

Four swimmers. Two chances left. And one big goal.

All season, swimmers Amy Kiuchi, Mackenzie Mergel, Lindsey Muiznieks and Olivia Wood have worked to break Puyallup High School’s record in the 200-yard freestyle relay. At the West Central District III meet, they clocked 1 minute, 41.03 seconds, besting the record of 1:41.92 set in 1992.

But for this quartet, there is no such thing as enough.

This weekend, they are determined to make more history by topping the state record of 1:38.29 set by Cascade of Everett in 2012. The State Swim and Dive Championships begin Friday at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

“We’ve prepared for this all season, and now it’s time for us to go out with a bang,” Mergel said.

Co-coach Andrea Stammen said she expects the girls to do just that.

“We know how fast individually each of them can go, and we haven’t had a day yet when each of them went that best split, so there's more to come,” she said.

Despite having the fastest time in Class 4A, Puyallup’s relay team is aware of the competition it faces from top-tier programs such as Gig Harbor and Wenatchee.

“We just have to have the mindset that we’ve been successful, and we can be successful at this meet,” Wood said. “We need to know what we can do — and that we can do better than that.”

Co-coach Casi Messineo compared the quartet to the “V“ formation geese make when they fly.

“If one of them has a bad day, the other three drop huge amounts of time so that one didn’t matter and they pull her along,“ she said.

“The coolest thing about watching these girls is they'll say ‘Oh, there’s no way we’ll get the record,’ and then they do, and have the swim of their lives, and we’re like ‘How did that happen?’ They're amazing that way.”

Mergel said that despite the relay team appearing in the 2013 state meet — it finished 11th — they have been something of a surprise this year.

“I think we came in as a dark horse,” she said. “I don’t think other teams saw us coming at all.”

As the relay’s lone senior, Kiuchi said it feels like four years of hard work are paying off.

“The other years were just as successful and just as fun, but this is the end,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to share it with anyone else, and it will be something I always remember.“

In turn, the juniors want to send their co-captain out on top.

“We have to swim our absolute fastest and give it all we’ve got,” Muiznieks said. “Because this is her last swim meet.”

Their team-first attitude is nothing new, said Stammen, who noted that the Vikings have benefited from strong chemistry and have 12 state swimmers, the most in her eight years with the program.

“They’re focused on the team and what they want to do,“ she said. “They have a good idea of the big picture.“

In addition to the 200- and 400-freestyle relays, all are swimming individual events: Mergel, the 100 breaststroke and 200 freestyle; Muiznieks, the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly; and Wood and Kiuchi, the 50 and 100 freestyle.

But the fact that they are competing against each other doesn’t even seem to register.

“I have never once raced any of them and thought, ‘I have to beat them,’ ” Muiznieks said. “I’m just like, ‘We’re going to do so good.’ ”

Kiuchi added, “It's kind of like Viking domination.”

Kiuchi also plays water polo, while the others swim for the Valley Aquatics club team. Muiznieks and Mergel started swimming together in fifth grade, and Wood joined them her freshman year.

The group has battled various ailments this season — mono, strep throat, sinus infections — but they’ve powered on.

“Knowing I have worked this entire time to be better this year than I was last year, I can’t give up,” Mergel said.

And what better time to do it than this weekend, on the state’s biggest stage.

“We want to make history at this school,” Wood said.

“We already have,“ Kiuchi added. “But we want to make more.”

Mergel’s voice took on a dramatic tone. “We didn’t come here to be forgotten.”

And then they all started laughing.