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GIRLS SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: Kenney caps sparkling prep career

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. North Gwinnett's Caroline Kenney has won five individual state titles in her career, including four titles in four races her final two seasons. She is the Daily Post's girls swimmer/diver of the year.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. North Gwinnett's Caroline Kenney has won five individual state titles in her career, including four titles in four races her final two seasons. She is the Daily Post's girls swimmer/diver of the year.

Caroline Kenney's best swimming event, the 200 backstroke, isn't on the list of 24 high school events contested in Georgia.

The North Gwinnett senior went through nearly her entire prep career without giving that race a shot, but she finally got her chance at the Bulldogs' final regular-season meet with Peachtree Ridge and Central Gwinnett. The catch was that she had to swim the 200-yard freestyle race as a 200 backstroke, while her competitors swam the much faster freestyle stroke.

"I always wanted to do (the 200 back) because it's my best event," said Kenney, more decorated at the high school level as a freestyler. "Everyone was OK with it. We asked the other coaches and the other teams and they were OK with it. I wasn't sure how it would do. I was just trying it out, just having fun with my last high school dual meet."

It turned out pretty well.

The Daily Post girls swimmer/diver of the year won the event at the tri-meet with a time of 2 minutes, 6.24 seconds, a state qualifying time in the 200 free, though she swam it in unorthodox fashion.

"I didn't want her or us to show off, so we took it to the other coaches and they were fine with it," North coach Doug Nieman said. "I actually thought she would win it and I thought she'd go a little faster than she did, but she told me in warm-ups her shoulder was sore. ... She took it seriously. She didn't take it as a joke, which I appreciated. She wanted to go faster but her shoulders were sore."

Those shoulders carried a heavy burden the past four seasons for North's swimming and diving team. She finished her career with school records in all four freestyle races, the 100 backstroke and all four relays.

Kenney won five individual state titles and one relay state crown in her career, trailing only Brookwood's Amanda Weir (eight individual titles from 2001-04) and Christie Hupman (six from 1999-2002) all-time among Gwinnett swimmers. Dacula's Abigail Alton and Parkview's Eric Shanteau, an Olympian like Weir, also won five individual titles each.

In her final two high school seasons, Kenney swept the county and state titles in both of her individual races, the 100 and 200 free. She also broke Weir's overall county and county-meet records in the 200 free.

"I'm pretty happy with (my high school career)," Kenney said. "The only thing I regret is not getting that state record (in the 200 free), but (the record) is very fast."

Kenney has signed with Virginia, where she will get to swim her best event along with the 100 and 200 free. She leaves behind quite a legacy at North, which relied heavily on her points to finish ninth in Class AAAAA this past season.

"I was thinking about this at the state meet, you can't fill those kind of shoes," Nieman said. "We've never had a swimmer like that at North. My first year of coaching at North was her freshman year, so I've been kind of spoiled. She's the most talented swimmer we've ever had.

"But what I see with her and the other athletes, she's not a snob. ... Some athletes are very arrogant about what they do, but I don't get that from her. Obviously no one's faster than her, but she was right in there with them and befriended a lot of the team. That was enjoyable to see."