High hopes for Parkview boys swimming and diving team

Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview High School swimming captains, from left to right, Sean Piner, Ricky Lehner and Geoffrey Carter show off  some of Parkview's collection of state championship swimming trophies.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview High School swimming captains, from left to right, Sean Piner, Ricky Lehner and Geoffrey Carter show off some of Parkview's collection of state championship swimming trophies.

Jack Gayle remembers the hubbub, or lack thereof, after Parkview's boys swimming and diving team won its first state championship in 1995.

At least within the halls of the Lilburn school.

"It was different," said Gayle, a freshman on the '95 team. "We were like, 'We won the state championship,' and most people at Parkview didn't know we had a swim team."

Times have changed now.

The state high school swimming championships are no longer relegated to places like Riverside Military Academy; instead they're contested in the Georgia Tech pool that hosted the 1996 Olympics. The sport's popularity also has surged to the point where the fans cheering and celebrating at meets aren't just affiliated with the swim team.

Gayle, no longer a kid, is now the head swimming and diving coach at his alma mater. He and assistant Eric Brown, also a Parkview grad, head up one of the state's most successful programs.

They each won two state titles as Panther swimmers, and have won two more (in 2006 and 2007) since Gayle took over for longtime head coach Rick Creed, now the coach at Mill Creek.

Gayle credits Creed for instilling the high expectations in the Parkview swimming and diving program that linger heading into this week's state meet. A bunch of traditions also have survived the test of time, like swimmers and divers dyeing their hair blonde for state.

"I remember when we won the second (state title) in 1998 how different it was," Gayle said. "That tradition started to grow and it was different from the first one (in '95). A lot of that is because of Coach Creed."

Parkview's boys team has continued to finish among the state's top three in recent years, but it hasn't won the overall trophy since 2007. Since then, rival Brookwood has won three times and Peachtree Ridge won last year's state championship by a slim three points over runner-up Parkview.

That painful finish, which included a costly disqualification in the next-to-last race, has lingered, too.

"It's what the guys have been excited about for 364 days or so," Gayle said. "They've talked about it non-stop. They literally set the goal that day (they finished as runner-up to Peachtree Ridge), that we were going to come back and win it this year."

The Panthers have dominated as expected this season, defeating rival Brookwood and winning their 18th county championship in a 21-year span. They're aiming for an even sweeter prize this weekend with a deep team.

The quest likely will get a nice boost Friday when senior Sean Piner competes in diving. Piner, state runner-up the past two seasons, is hopeful of his first state championship, as well as valuable team points for Parkview. In the swimming finals Saturday, state-record holder Ricky Lehner and fellow captain Geoffrey Carter lead the Panthers. Lehner is seeking his third straight state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke. Rory Martin and Devyn Hughes also are capable of high finishes in the finals. They're part of a group that hopes to add to Parkview's already impressive haul of eight all-time state titles in boys swimming and diving.

"When you have the kind of tradition Parkview has, (the state title) is always on their mind," Gayle said. "There's that subtle pressure to keep that going. ... That quest for a state title is an expectation."

Gayle said he expects rival Brookwood, led by a pair of individuals who are state title favorites in Michael Trice and Aidan Sweeney, and a veteran Lassiter team to push his Panthers at state.

But few teams will be hungrier than Parkview after last year's narrow miss at state.

"This year, probably more than the recent ones, will be special because of how committed they've been to the goal," Gayle said. "They've thought about nothing else but that since last year. They've been so committed to this goal."

Parkview also has a chance to keep Gwinnett's impressive streak alive at the state meet. A boys team from the county has won Georgia's largest classification 12 years in a row, including all 11 since Class AAAAA was added for the 2001 meet.

On the girls side, Gwinnett hasn't had a AAAAA swimming and diving champion since Brookwood won the last of its four in a row in 2004. That could change this season, with the Broncos leading a group of six teams with aspirations of a high finish.

Another highlight of the girls AAAAA meet will be Mill Creek's Rachael Dudley pursuing her third straight state title in the 100 butterfly. In the AAAA-A meet, Wesleyan's boys are the defending state champions. The Wolves are led by senior Anthony McMurry, the defending state champion in the 100 freestyle.