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Tight team races expected at county swim meet

The trophy for county boys swimming champion almost always resides at Parkview.

The slip-ups during the Panthers' era of dominance have been rare, with just two loaded Collins Hill boys teams stopping a streak of 16 Parkview county boys titles in 18 seasons through the 2009 season.

But the Panthers saw a run of six straight county titles end last year, when rival Brookwood won its first county boys championship since 1990. The Broncos, also on a run of back-to-back state championships, now face the task of defending a county title.

That could prove tough since many coaches consider Parkview the favorite to win the boys county meet, which begins today and concludes with finals Saturday at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center. The Panthers beat Brookwood three times during the regular season.

"With the Brookwood boys being defending state and county champions, I'm sure that many people consider us the favorite to repeat (at county)," Brookwood coach Greg Puckett said. "The Parkview boys however have a strong and deep team that has already beaten us three times this season. I therefore think that Parkview is the favorite going in and we will just have to do our best to compete with them."

Parkview is seeded first, fifth and third in the three crucial relays, while Brookwood's relays are seeded third, second and second.

The Broncos' only top seed in an individual race is Aidan Sweeney in the 500 freestyle, though his older brother Conor, a two-time state champion last season, also is in that race.

Parkview's only top seed is Ricky Lehner, who has a shot at the county-meet and county record in the 100 breaststroke. His qualifying time of 58.62 seconds is close to the marks of Norcross' Michael Russo from 2001 and 2002 -- 57.79 at county and 57.74 at state.

But depth is more important that individual victories in the county scoring format.

"Every season when the time comes to prepare for county, it is almost impossible to guess what the other schools will do with their top swimmers," Parkview coach Jack Gayle said. "Our guys want to win, but they understand that there are some big obstacles standing between them and a return to the top spot in the county. The biggest one is maroon and gold. We'll see what happens."

The maroon-and-gold team also is the girls favorite at county. Brookwood has six county girls titles in a row, as well as 10 of the past 11 and 15 of the past 18.

The Broncos expect a huge challenge this weekend from Mill Creek, as both teams have five No. 1 seeds in the meet. Brookwood is seeded first in two of the three relays and Kelsey Gouge has the top time in both the 50 and 100 free, while Rachael Dudley is No. 1 in both the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly for the Mill Creek girls.

"(Our girls) are probably the favorite going in but we will have some tough competition from Mill Creek," Puckett said. "Both teams have a handful of very good athletes that should place very high in their events, but the championship will probably come down to how the third or fourth swimmers for each team do in their individual events."