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Hawks savor third place; Kenney defends two titles

ATLANTA -- Mill Creek head coach Rick Creed said he doesn't watch scores.

Which is how he ends up being plainly shocked when he's asked about the girls team's third-place finish at the Class AAAAA state swimming championships Tuesday at Westminster.

"Are you serious?!" said a gaping Creed, his eyes going wide. "Are you serious?!"

He's assured the final scores are in and Mill Creek has taken home a trophy for the first time in school history with 187.5 points.

"That's awesome," Creed said as it sank in.

Less of a surprise, but just as important was Caroline Kenney's defense of her two individual state titles. The North Gwinnett senior won the 200 freestyle for the third straight year and repeated as champion in the 100 free.

Coming out for the 200 free, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" was playing.

And it was sweet indeed.

Kenney was pushed by Mill Creek junior Sommers Creed, who was right on Kenney's shoulder the whole way. Creed couldn't catch the senior, but her second-place finish added important points to the Hawks' overall total.

"It's really exciting," Sommers Creed said. "We've never scored that high, ever. It feels really good to take home a trophy."

"And I was really happy to just even be close to (Kenney). Because she's really fast."

Kenney said she knew it was going to be tough to stay ahead of Creed.

"I train with her all the time so I know how hard she works," Kenney said. "But I also know I can come back and finish even if she's right there."

Mill Creek stayed ahead of fourth-place Brookwood (168) and was behind only Walton and Lassiter. No one was close to state champion Lassiter, which rolled to the title with 326 points. But that mattered little as the Hawks, a program on the rise, celebrated the team effort.

"The girls just really stepped up and we're just to proud of them," Rick Creed said. "We graduate one girl and all the rest are coming back. So we're really excited about the future.

"The kids really stepped up and gave it their best. We're just really pleased with the way they carried themselves and the way they represented their school and community."

Mill Creek was led by best friends Sommers Creed and Rachael Dudley. Each won a state title and was runner-up in another race. Dudley, a sophomore, won the 100-yard butterfly by steadily adding to her lead down the stretch and touching the wall first in 55.39 seconds.

"I didn't really know what to expect because anyone can win it's so short," said Dudley, who was ninth at state in the 100 fly as a freshman. "You just have go out there and sprint."

Dudley followed that up with a strong charge in the late going for a second-place finish -- to Creed -- in a very different kind of race, the 500 freestyle.

"We just wanted to get first and second because we wanted to, I guess, share the greatness," Dudley said. "She got second in her other event and I won one, so I guess it was teamwork."

Creed won the 500 free in 4:51.17 after finishing second last year and taking home the title as a freshman in 2008.

The junior was going stroke for stroke with Lassiter's Sarah Williford at the start, but began edging away and had a body-length lead after 300 yards.

Dudley was third and then also passed Williford. She was into second easily at the bell lap and finished a couple lengths behind Creed.

Duluth's Hailey White made it a Gwinnett sweep for the top three places.

The final race of the night was the girls 400 free relay. Creed led it off and Dudley closed it out, swimming a strong anchor leg to secure third place for the Hawks.

"I'm just extremely proud of her," Rick Creed said of his daughter Sommers. "She's a competitor. She loves to race. I'd be lying if I said she wasn't nervous, but she loves to race. She likes the challenge. And Rachael Dudley is the same. They're just both just two extremely hard workers. They really spur each other on.

"Then Katie Evans swam great in the breast and Frederique Lefebvre had a good meet and Sammy Akoubian stepped up. We impressed upon them that everyone that swims can score points tonight so it doesn't matter what heat you're in. Sammy did that. The relay swam great. We're extremely proud."

Mill Creek was the top Gwinnett finisher in the 200 medley relay, a race Brookwood set the state record in last year. But the Broncos' relay was missing three of the swimmers that earned them a state title and finished sixth. Only Anna Springer was in the lineup this time with Meghan Faulkner injured and Jana Mangimelli and Haley Holcolmbe graduated.

"Obviously it hurt not having (Faulkner)," said Brookwood coach Greg Puckett. "But the best case would have been third (overall), even with her. I was actually proud of them. They swam well to stay ahead of Centennial."

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