The Twin Lakes Penguins swim team chose the right theme this year: In honor of “Star Wars,” the Penguins went with the mantra “The Empire Strikes Back.”
It couldn’t have been more appropriate.
After a tough 0-7 regular season, the Penguins struck back at the all-city meet last Wednesday with two first-place finishes and two record-breaking performances.
By the conclusion of the meet, Twin Lakes finished seventh out of the 16 participating teams, including four teams it had struggled against during its regular season.
“This is quite an accomplishment for a team of newer summer swimmers,” Penguins co-manager Melanie Muscutt said. “My co-manager Charis Tucker and myself were so incredibly proud of our team and the outstanding sportsmanship they showed throughout the entire season.”
While the numbers show it was a down season for the Penguins in terms of wins and losses, the swim program itself at Twin Lakes is flourishing.
Over the last two years, the Penguins have grown to 154 swimmers, a 22 percent increase since 2014.
The reason for the struggles this year, Muscutt said, was due to some age group gaps that prevented Twin Lakes from producing its maximum amount of points.
“We still had some gaps in age groups that hurt us when it came to scoring,” Muscutt said. “The good news is that our program is on fire, and we continue to add more swimmers each year, so hopefully we’ll be able to round out some of these gaps.”
Its regular season record may not reflect it, but Muscutt said the team came into the all-city meet meet with confidence.
Though they were missing participants in certain age ranges, Muscutt said the Penguins believed in themselves in the team’s individual and relay events, and Twin Lakes didn’t disappoint.
Ashlea Liljar led off those individual events, and she broke the girls 13/14-year-old 50-meter butterfly record.
“We knew we had some really great relay performers,” Muscutt said. “We also knew we had individual events that we could score in at all-city, and our swimmers performed.”
Kaycee Simpson followed Liljar and broke the girls 15-and-over 100 Individual Medley record. Simpson followed that performance by taking first place in the 50 butterfly.
On the boys side, it was all about Ian Olufson. Olufson broke the boys 15-and-over 100 freestyle record.
Lilly Tucker wrapped up the Penguins’ outstanding night by taking first and breaking the girls 13/14-year-old record in the 50 breaststroke.
“We had several team records broken and personal best times achieved at the all-city meet,” Muscutt said. “It was phenomenal to see that our swimmers were peaking at the right time.”
The postseason surge of success for the Penguins possibly came from a pre-meet pep talk Muscutt had with the team. In essence, Muscutt and the coaches sat the team down and told them to put the regular season struggles behind them and treat the all-city meet as if it’s the only meet of the year.
The words worked, and Muscutt said it was evident the team put the nerves of competition behind them and remembered the aspect of sport that’s supposed to be fun.
“I told them it’s easy to be on a team that wins all the time, but when you’re on a team that doesn’t win, you really see the true character of your swimmers,” Muscutt said. “I was so incredibly proud of all of our swimmers’ sportsmanship and attitude throughout the entire season.”
The preparation, pressure and excitement of the all-city meet is over. Like many athletic programs, many athletes will return next year and some will go on to their next chapter.
But the work continues on for Muscutt and the coaching staff. There are positions on the team to be filled and fundraising for the upcoming year to be done.
The Penguins’ season kicks off each year prior to Memorial Day and concludes the first week of August. The team is part of the Greater Seattle Summer Swim League, which stretches from Federal Way to north Seattle.
With the Penguins’ rebound into the Cinderella story of the all-city meet, the only direction for the program and quality of swimmers to go is up.
“I think one of the most rewarding aspects about working with ‘summer-only swimmers’ is that you see the huge improvement they make in such a short period of time,” Muscutt said. “I am so excited for us to continue to grow and bring in many more talented swimmers.”