Photo by Staff Photo: Jason Braverman

Photo by Staff Photo: Jason Braverman

ATLANTA -- Reclassification has all but eliminated head-to-head matchups between longtime rivals Greater Atlanta Christian and Wesleyan.

That's not the case in swimming and the two Norcross private schools had one of their closest, most intense battles in any sport Thursday night at Westminster.

Both schools were in search of their first Class AAAA-A state championship in swimming and diving and they entered the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay tied at 230 points in the team standings.

It didn't matter what happened in the other six lanes. The winner between the two Gwinnett programs would be the team state champion.

GAC responded with a clutch effort, leading from the start and winning the 400 free state title to lock up the team championship. Wesleyan finished the race as runner-up, also its position in the team standings.

"I was so nervous (before the last race), my hands were shaking so hard," second-year GAC coach Beth McGee said. "They just swam way above what I expected. They cut six seconds off that relay time from prelims to finals. I knew we could cut two or three seconds, but not six. All four swimmers had their best times in that relay."

Those four -- D.J. Boutte, Wesley Pate, Chase Flint and Will Freeman -- posted an automatic All-American time of 3 minutes, 10.19 seconds for a solid win over Wesleyan's runner-up team that swam 3:12.06.

Freeman won two individual state titles in the 200 and 500 free races and Pate won the 200 individual medley. But the team title was the sweetest of them all.

"It's so exciting," Freeman said. "It's the happiest I've ever been after a race (after the 400 free relay). There's no way one person could do this. We had a group of guys step up and do some serious work."

The state championship had a more serious meaning to the Spartans, who also got a third-place finish from their girls team, best among local teams. They lost their longtime coach, Karen Blackman, when she unexpectedly passed away less than two years ago. Blackman played a pivotal role in building a competitive swim team, as well as getting the swimmers into the school's new aquatic center.

"I know Karen had something to do with this, she gave us a little push from heaven," McGee said. "I know she's smiling. She started this program."

Freeman was again GAC's individual star, adding to a junior season when he won the 500 free with a national private school record. He won the 200 free this season in 1:42.12, bettering a runner-up finish from a year ago though he didn't get to battle the swimmer he lost to, Lakeside's Jack Lane. Lane pulled out unexpectedly after prelims with an illness.

Freeman repeated as champion in the 500 free in 4:30.30, an automatic All-American time, but well off his 4:19.32 from last season. A major reason was that he wasn't shaved and tapered for state this season, opting to ramp up his training again when winter weather delayed the state meet.

But he wasn't the only Spartan to win an event title. Pate won the 200 IM in 1:54.58 to score big points.

Devyn Hughes (fifth in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 breast), Flint (fifth in the 200 free and seventh in the 500 free) and Boutte (seventh in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free) also produced important points for GAC.

They needed every one to hold off a talented Wesleyan team.

The Wolves won the meet-opening 200 medley relay in 1:35.34, an automatic All-American time and the fastest time in the state this season, including Tuesday's AAAAA meet. Anthony McMurry chased down a Westminster swimmer for the comeback win, helping relay mates Nick Salyers, Will Gregory and Michael Reynolds become state champions.

The Wolves also won the 200 free relay (1:26.85, automatic All-American time) with the foursome of Timothy Marsh, Chase Bartlett, Gregory and Andrew Sunderman.

Individually, Reynolds was second in the 200 free and third in the 500 free, McMurry was seventh in the 200 free and fifth in the 100 free, Salyers was sixth in the 100 backstroke and Gregory was third in the 100 breast.

Gregory's swim tied the score heading into the final relay.

"Our team did so awesome," Wesleyan coach Colin Creel said. "We had three or four All-American cuts and a bunch of times were first-team all-state. Our kids have so much heart. They're disappointed (to finish second), but we only have two seniors on our state team (GAC has six), the rest are sophomores and juniors. So the future's very bright."

Providence Christian senior Caleb Weir, the brother of former Brookwood star and 2004 Olympian Amanda Weir, had two runner-up finishes in the boys meet. He was second in both the 100 free and the 100 back.

Loganville's Doug Reynolds won state in the 50 free (21.06) and the 100 free (45.74).

The GAC girls were third overall with 198.5 points, finishing behind perennial powers Marist (325) and Westminster (277.5).

The Spartans were led by Caroline Pitts (third in the 200 free and fourth in the 500 free), Madison Peters (second in the 50 free and sixth in the 100 free), Elizabeth Freeman (tied for seventh in the 100 butterfly and eighth in the 500 free) and Lily Tang (runner-up in the 100 back).

Wesleyan was sixth in the girls competition behind a second-place 200 medley relay of Jordan Jackson, Presley Kuehn, Rachel Koch and Mackenzie Kuehn.

Archer freshman Lydia Jones placed fifth in the 50 free and tied for seventh in the 100 fly.