ATLANTA - As they won last year's Class AAAAA state title, Brookwood's boys swimmers took the enjoyable path of the hungry underdog.
They entered this year's meet in the less desirable position of defending champions, amping up the pressure and leaving county rivals Norcross and Parkview as the chasers.
But the Broncos' first time defending a state title went just fine on Saturday at Westminster. They scored 255 points to hold off Norcross (224), Parkview (177.5) and Peachtree Ridge (159) as Gwinnett teams held the top four sports in AAAAA.
Collins Hill was sixth, Mill Creek was seventh and North Gwinnett was ninth, giving Gwinnett seven of the state's top 10 boys teams. The county's domination of the state meet continued on Saturday - a Gwinnett team has won the boys state title in the state's largest classification every year since 2000.
Parkview's Andrew Ruffing had a huge day with two individual state titles and a relay win, but rival Brookwood stood atop the team standings for the second straight year.
Much to the relief of the Bronco swimmers.
"It was a sense of relief to win, really," said Bronco junior Conor Sweeney, who won 200 and 500 freestyle state titles. "A big sense of relief."
Sweeney admitted he thought Brookwood was losing its grip on the title midway through the finals. However, the defending champions closed strong with a victory in the 400 freestyle relay. Sweeney, Danny Nguyen, Mark Dunn and Ken Bolton teamed up to swim an automatic All-American and school-record time of 3 minutes, 9.79 seconds in the meet-ending event.
"It feels great to win," said Nguyen, who was second in the 200 IM (1:53.19) and third in the 100 butterfly (52.26), both school records. "We won state for the first time (in program history) last year and this year winning it again makes it that much better. It's especially nice for me because it's my senior year.
"There was a lot of pressure to win again. We were so nervous coming in because there were a lot of good teams, especially Norcross."
Senior-laden Norcross certainly put the heat on Brookwood.
The Blue Devils' foursome of Kevin Spiwak, Andrew Feeney, Connor Stickney and Sean Bagent opened the meet with a first-place finish in the 200 medley relay, posting an automatic All-American time of 1:36.57.
Feeney later added a state championship in the 100 breaststroke (57.68), Scott Aron was second in the 500 free (1:42.24), Bagent was third in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free and Stickney was fifth in the 100 backstroke.
But Norcross' talent at the top was overwhelmed by Brookwood's overall depth.
"We were a little more battle-tested this year," Brookwood coach Greg Puckett said. "They knew what they had to do. They were down 16 points based on their seeding, but there was no concern. They just came in and did what they had to do.
"The relays were the key. They swam really well in the relays."
So did Sweeney, who filled the void left by the graduation of Stephen Swan, a two-time state champion in 2008. Sweeney won the two distance free races in automatic All-American times, swimming 1:40.41 in the 200 free and 4:35.75 in the 500 free.
Brookwood also got a fifth-place finish from Aidan Sweeney in the 500 free.
"It feels very good," Puckett said. "It was nice last year to get over that hump (and win) after finishing behind Parkview and then Collins Hill all those years. I think this year just verified all the solid kids, parents and the program we have in our community."
Ruffing powered Parkview's third-place finish with state titles in the 100 butterfly (automatic All-American time of 49.47) and the 100 backstroke (automatic All-American time of 50.53). It was his second straight state title in the 100 back and his second championship in the 100 fly, which he also won as a sophomore.
The Auburn signee also helped the Panthers' 200 free relay to a school-record and automatic All-American time of 1:26.89, which edged Brookwood for the state championship.
Gwinnett's other top-five finishers were North's Eric Madden (third in 200 free, fifth in 100 fly), Collins Hill's Joseph Strauss (fourth in 200 individual medley, fourth in 100 breast) and Bruce Janzen (third in 100 fly, fourth in 100 back), Mill Creek's Kevin Doran (second in 100 breast, fifth in 200 IM), Peachtree Ridge's Luke Upchurch (second in 50 free, fourth in 100 free) and Tommy King (fourth in 50 free, second in 100 free) and Grayson's Stephen Takas (fifth in 50 free, fourth in 100 fly).
SideBar: State Champs
State Swimming and Diving Championships
Saturday's Gwinnett state champions
Class AAAAA Boys
Norcross 200 medley relay, 1:36.57
(Kevin Spiwak, Andrew Feeney, Connor Stickney, Sean Bagent)
Conor Sweeney, Brookwood
200 freestyle, 1:40.41
500 freestyle, 4:35.75
Andrew Ruffing, Parkview
100 butterfly, 49.47
100 backstroke, 50.53#
Parkview 200 freestyle relay, 1:26.89
(Clarence Messler, Ben Hudlow, Eloi Furtado, Andrew Ruffing)
Andrew Feeney, Norcross
100 breaststroke, 57.68
Brookwood 400 freestyle relay, 3:09.79
(Danny Nguyen, Mark Dunn, Ken Bolton, Conor Sweeney)
Class AAAAA Girls
Brookwood 200 medley relay, 1:45.05*
(Jana Mangimelli, Anna Springer, Haley Holcombe, Meghan Faulkner)
Caroline Kenney, North Gwinnett
200 freestyle, 1:47.10
100 freestyle, 50.15
Jana Mangimelli, Brookwood
200 individual medley, 1:58.15
Allyson Sweeney, Brookwood
100 butterfly, 55.10
Brookwood 400 freestyle relay, 3:26.54*#
(Allyson Sweeney, Kelsey Gouge, Meghan Faulkner, Jana Mangimelli)
Class AAAA/AAA/AA/A Boys
Will Freeman, GAC
500 freestyle, 4:19.32*#
* State record
# Pool record