The few weeks leading up to the high school swimming and diving season were pretty tense for Rachael Dudley.
The Mill Creek senior, still overjoyed from her recent commitment to swim for Navy, got unfortunate news from the school. Her stack of medical records submitted to the academy and additional testing indicated that she may have asthma, which would have prevented her enrollment.
She had the letter from a U.S. senator. She had the 3.9-plus GPA. She had exceptional swimming talent.
In short, she had everything Navy wanted. Except for a questionable physical exam.
"It was crazy because I don't have asthma," Dudley said.
The two weeks of uncertainty finally ended this past Thursday. Her future Navy coach called with news that the academy's dean of admissions had approved her enrollment.
"If he didn't approve it, I would have had to find another place to go to college and start all over," Dudley said. "I'm very relieved right now. I feel a lot better now. I can sleep better now."
Dudley's relief is understandable. She knew Navy was the place for her when she visited the Annapolis, Md., school the first weekend of October.
With an official visit to Auburn already behind her, she called off her next planned visit to Florida State.
"I knew that was where I wanted to go," Dudley said. "It was so pretty. I loved the campus. The team was so great. They were so welcoming and seemed really genuine that they wanted me there. Plus I could see myself there, that was a big part.
"I liked the stability, having a job when you get out of the military. Knowing that I have to serve after four years of college and then I'll have a job. With the economy, it's good to have that stability."
With that decision behind her, Dudley can focus on her final high school season with a promising Mill Creek team.
The Hawks, with the graduation of star Sommers Creed (now at Georgia), will rely more heavily on Dudley and fellow senior Frederique Lefebvre to be the go-to swimmers and leaders.
"(Dudley) is strong in every stroke and excels in butterfly, distance free and relays," Mill Creek head coach Rick Creed said.
Because of those talents, Creed has used Dudley throughout the lineup during her career. She has been standout at the high school level since her freshman season, when she won the 100-yard butterfly at the county meet in 55.78 seconds and beat the next four swimmers in that race, all seniors who are now college swimmers. Her 100 fly time in that meet broke the county meet record held by 2004 Olympian Amanda Weir.
She followed that up with county titles in the 100 fly and 100 backstroke her sophomore season, as well as a state championship in the 100 fly and a state runner-up finish in the 500 freestyle.
As a junior, she repeated as state champion in the 100 fly, was state runner-up in the 100 back and swept her two races at county. Her 100 fly time of 54.82 lowered the county and county-meet records, bouncing Weir from the record book again. She swam 54.52 at state to take the record even lower.
One individual goal remains for her senior season.
"I'd like to win both my events at state this year, that would be good," Dudley said.
A big season also would mean a great deal to the success of Mill Creek's girls team, which is steadily rising among the state's elite. Even without Creed, the Hawks have county and state title aspirations for the girls squad.
"I love our team," Dudley said. "We're really close considering half of our team goes to year-round. We still know each other and we're always yelling behind each other's lanes. We always try to get to know everyone. ... We want to do really well at state. I don't know if we'll win it. You don't want to set too high of goals. But we want to be pretty high up there. At county, our girls team is looking good. I think we'll do well there."