Johnson returns with her powerhouse swim team

Chauntelle Johnson directs her Mercer Island swim team at a meet earlier this season. - Photo courtesy of Chauntelle Johnson
Chauntelle Johnson directs her Mercer Island swim team at a meet earlier this season.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Chauntelle Johnson

Chauntelle Johnson is coming home -- and bringing 40 of her closest friends.

Johnson, a 2001 Oak Harbor High School graduate and current Mercer Island High School swim coach, returns to town Saturday, Sept. 28, with her team in tow.

The Islanders will square off with the Wildcats at 2 p.m. at John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, the place Johnson began her swimming career.

Johnson said her athletes “are really excited to see where I grew up and all the places I tell them about in my stories about my high school swimming experience.”

Johnson’s swimmers are building their own memories. Mercer Island won the past four state 3A championships, and in the same span, the MI boys team, also coached by Johnson, earned two titles and two second-place finishes.

Johnson was the assistant coach at MI for three years before taking over the program five years ago.

This year’s girls team has an excellent chance of continuing the success, Johnson said. “We are a young team. We have over 60 girls participating and nearly half of them are new to the team. We are still just as strong as we have been in years past although the names may look different.”

Oak Harbor coach Alex Thierry said, “Facing Mercer Island should be fun. It is great for our girls to go against a big team early in the season. We do not take a bunch of girls to state, so seeing that quality of swimming at a dual meet should be an amazing learning experience for all of our girls.”

Johnson said the success of her program comes from the standards set by previous coaches and the Mercer Island community. Over 400 kids participate in summer league swimming at MI.

“The more kids, the better the chance to find a diamond in the rough,” she said.

Johnson added, “I really try to push kids harder than they ever have been pushed and then show them exactly how tough they are. It’s really hard sometimes on them and on me, but in the end, they are so much better for it. I am really passionate about the team and I try to get all of our kids to feel the same way about the program as well.”

And, it’s not all about winning at Mercer Island. In a recent Swim Across America event, the team raised nearly $25,000, the most by any area participating school, for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“I am proud of our accomplishments in the pool,” Johnson said, “but most proud of what this team means to our community and the huge impact they have when they come together.”

Johnson began swimming when she was about 9 years old, and her coaching career started while still in high school when she was hired to help out with the North Whidbey Aquatic Club.

Her first job was at Vanderzicht Pool teaching swim lessons and lifeguarding.

She helped the Wildcats place fourth in state, a school best, in 2000 and went on to swim for Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State University) with high school teammate Kyla Meuer. There she came back from a shoulder injury to win the conference 50- and 100-freestyle titles.

She helped her college team take three league titles, was a four-time All-Missouri Valley Conference first-team selection and was a four-time academic all-league member.

She was named to the conference’s All-Centennial Team when the MVC celebrated its 100th anniversary.

When not coaching at Mercer Island High School, she is the aquatics director at the Mercer Island Country Club. She is finishing up her masters in Sport Administration at Seattle University and raising 2-year-old daughter Savannah along with husband Michael.

She is still a Wildcat at heart: “I really do love the Oak Harbor swimming community. I try not to scare all the young swimmers at the state meet each year, but sometimes its hard for me not to be excited when the OHHS kids are performing so well.”

Saturday’s meet wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District and the pool staff, Johnson said. The groups “did some juggling” to make it happen: “Schedule changing is no small feat for a facility like that.”

It’s easier when it is for one of their own.

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