Staff photo: Jason Braverman
The Brookwood boys swimmers were the chasers for years, regularly finishing as runner-ups during Parkview's years of dominance at the state meet.
Now the Broncos are building their own dynasty, courtesy of back-to-back Class AAAAA state championships the past two years. They enter Saturday's finals as the favorites for a three-peat, taking with them both the pressure and the confidence of having been on top before.
"It's almost like a routine, it's that time of the year again," said Brookwood senior Conor Sweeney, the defending individual state champion in both the 200 and 500 freestyle. "It's the same feeling as two years ago when we started winning. We've just got to take care of business and usually good results come out of that."
The results haven't been perfect this season in dual meets and at county, where rival Parkview's depth produced another championship. But the Gwinnett runner-up Broncos feature more state-level swimmers at the top of their lineup, making them more of a threat in the state format.
Their main competition could come from fellow Gwinnett school Peachtree Ridge, also a top-loaded team that figures to battle Brookwood, Northview and Alpharetta for the top four spots.
"I think we just go in (to the state meet) pretty focused," said Bronco senior Robbie Swan, who will swim the sprint freestyle races. "It's obvious what our big goal is and we just take it one goal at a time. If you're in the A final, make sure you're in the A final. If you're in the B final, try to move up and make the A final. And people outside (the A and B finals), try to make a final and score some points."
Head coach Greg Puckett also likes his team's mind-set leading up to the meet. Some of his swimmers stayed late for a few hours one evening to research other swimmers from around the state, helping the coach formulate the right lineup for this week.
"So far this season the boys have been very inconsistent and have been up and down as far as their performances," Puckett said. "However, they are very focused on defending their state championship and they want very much to be successful in the meet."
The Broncos are strong in both the distance freestyle events (Sweeney and his younger brother Aidan) and in the sprint races (with Swan and sophomore Michael Trice, the county champion in the 50 free). Junior Ken Bolton and senior Thomas Nguyen also figure to score points in the swimming finals for a team that also boasts two qualified divers for the first time in Garrett Boss and Taylor Brown.
Another Brookwood advantage is being able to field three high-level relays, compared to just two for Peachtree Ridge. But the Lions have the ability to win state in both of those relays, creating a good rivalry with the Broncos, particularly in the meet-ending 400 free relay.
Brookwood beat Peachtree Ridge in that event at state last year, then the Lions celebrated wildly when they defeated the Broncos at last month's county meet -- though it didn't mean as much when both teams were disqualified, Brookwood for an early start and Peachtree Ridge for a swimmer re-entering the water to celebrate.
The Brookwood and Peachtree Ridge boys train in the same group at SwimAtlanta, only fueling what should be an exciting close to the AAAAA boys meet.
"It's a pretty heated rivalry, we talk about it every day," Sweeney said. "It should be the best race of them all."
The Brookwood girls and the county champion Mill Creek girls are Gwinnett's best hopes for a girls champion in AAAAA, though both teams are likely chasing meet favorites Lassiter and Walton.
In the AAAA-A meet, both the Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian teams are expected to have strong meets.
GAC senior Will Freeman also returns for the 500 free, a race he won last year in a state-record time of 4 minutes, 19.32 seconds. That time shattered the previous state record by nine seconds, broke the national private school mark and was close to the oldest high school swimming record of 4:16.39, set in 1983.