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Thunderbolts aim to break run of near-misses

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Over the past decade, the Thunderbolts have been in the mix consistently for the Gwinnett County Swim League's overall championship. Each time they've fallen a little short.

A longtime powerhouse in the county's massive summer league, the team has placed second six times and third place three times since winning its last county meet back in 2001. The Thunderbolts have five county titles, just not any recently as Chateau Elan has won the past two over the runner-up Bolts.

"(Chateau Elan) has to be the favorite until someone knocks them off," Thunderbolts coach Jim Reason said of this weekend's meet, which will be today and Sunday at Georgia Tech. "They've won the last two years so they're the favorites. That's the way my coaches and my swimmers are looking at it. If we want to win, we have to swim well. We can't have a bad weekend.

"The last 12 years, we've always been in every county meet and we felt like we always had a chance to win. This year is no different, but we just have to go out and do it."

Reason, who also coaches Duluth's high school team, relies on a strong mix of swimmers from his high school cluster and from Peachtree Ridge. The Thunderbolts' home pool is in the Peachtree Ridge district, just down the road from the high school.

The team's 15- to 18-year-old group is particularly strong, led by high school state champions Luke Upchurch of Peachtree Ridge and Anthony McMurry of Wesleyan. Dacula's Michael Ragan and Peachtree Ridge's Savannah Ruedt also are keys in the oldest age group.

Ashley Neas (9- and 10-year-old division), Ryan MacKinnon (9-10), Jessica Harris (9-10), Rachel Rice (13-14), Rebecca Erwin (13-14) and Chris McKenney (13-14) also are Thunderbolts who are ranked highly among the county's best times.

Reason will take 84 swimmers to the county meet from a roster of 199 total swimmers, which is an all-time high for the team. The Thunderbolts went 6-0 this season, including a win over Chateau Elan head to head.

"It will be tough for us to win again this weekend, the Thunderbolts are the team to beat," said Chateau Elan coach Rick Creed, the high school coach at Mill Creek. "We have a lot of new kids with a lot of enthusiasm. We'll give it our best shot."

Daniel Park, Lansmoore and Flowers Crossing also are expected to fight it out for the top five spots in this weekend's meet.

The season-ending meet is the culmination of a schedule that features crowded meets at neighborhood pools, which gives way to the posh Georgia Tech facility for the final two days of swimming. It takes nearly 400 volunteers to run the county meet and reward the total of 2,232 local swimmers who will compete there.

"It's a great treat for the kids who haven't really been (to a big pool like Georgia Tech)," Creed said. "It's not as much for the year-round swimmers, but for those young kids, it's their first experience and they take a look at that building and they're in awe. It's great that we get to have our county meet down there."