Mills unites Eastside Catholic swimmers
By KEVIN ENDEJAN
Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor
January 23, 2009 · Updated 8:24 AM
Freshman Megan Mills has contributed to successful bonding of the Eastside Catholic swim team — a group that more than tripled in size from last season. / Mark Lowry / Issaquah Reporter
Megan Mills meticulously jots down the evening workout routine on a whiteboard, her smile illuminating the lobby of the Klahanie Mountainview Pool. The scene is one that has played out every practice before the Eastside Catholic swimmers hit the water.
“She’s just so happy and she just has so much cheer,” said All-American sophomore Ethan Hallowell.
Mills, 14, is a freshman and part of the Options Special Education program at Eastside Catholic. Her wide smile and bright eyes have become a staple around the pool this season, and it has caught on.
“She’s brought more fun to the team,” said senior Morgan Saad, who frequently joins Mills in light-hearted antics at practice.
The upbeat atmosphere came as relief to Crusader coach Rhonda Bunker. Her team grew from just 11 athletes last season to 38 this year. The second-year coach wasn’t sure how the transition would go.
“This year, tripling in size, my biggest fear was that they wouldn’t gel as a team and these guys are great,” Bunker said. “I think (Megan) has a lot to do with that.”
Initially shy, it only took a few practices for Mills to break out of her shell. Before long she was participating in underwater handstand contests with teammates and playing jokes on her coach. One particular prank, involving Saad and Mills, left an impression on Bunker.
“They will put the little mat in at the end of the pool and hide underneath and say ‘Rhonda where’s Morgan, or Rhonda where’s Megan?’ The first time they did it my heart stopped,” Bunker said. “Now, I know that’s what they do to just get my blood pressure up.”
The cheery presence of Mills has been particularly significant this winter. Eastside Catholic is one of just a handful of high school teams, including Skyline, that practice outdoors. Last season, the Crusaders worked out at Newport Hills — another outdoor facility — when the school was based in Bellevue. When the campus moved to Sammamish, the team moved to Klahanie, which has one less pool and no jacuzzi. Oftentimes, the Crusaders are practicing in temperatures in the low- to mid-30s. Practice had to be canceled because of snow earlier in the season, and high winds have forced swimmers to chase tarps in the parking lot.
“When you’re doing a difficult set and it’s not really a good time, you’re just trying to get through it, (Megan’s) always kind of fooling around having a good time and she always has a smile on her face ...,” senior Spencer Moritz said. “That puts us in a good mood, to have that on the team.”
It’s not only her personality, however, that inspires teammates. It’s the effort and the skill Mills shows when in the pool. She competes in the 50 freestyle, along with the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
“She’s a great swimmer and she’s been a great addition to our team,” Moritz said.
Mills, who started swimming eight years ago, has won three heats in the 50 free this season.
She might be quiet at first, but she’s not shy about her success.
“Yeah, I’m fast,” she said, with a chuckle.
For her teammates, it’s a great inspiration to watch her compete.
“It’s a really good feeling to see her win a heat like she did last week,” Moritz said. “It just warms your heart when you see that.”
Hallowell, who won 3A state titles in the 50 and 100 freestyles with All-American times, has felt a significant influence from having Mills in the pool.
“She’s like the star in my eyes,” he said. “She’s the one who inspires me. Some of these people, they look up to me, but I look up to her. I’d like to see what she does this year.”