In this file photo, girls from the Morning View Manta Rays swim team cheer on their teammates during a meet earlier this season.
Rick Creed declared Jim Reason's Thunderbolts the favorite.
Reason demurred, talking up Creed's Chateau Elan team, as well as Daniel Park and Lansmoore.
The longtime Gwinnett County Swim League and high school coaches like their teams, make no mistake. But they're both aware how tough the competition is going to be starting today at the season-ending county meet.
The Thunderbolts are the defending champs, breaking through after finishing runner-up to Chateau Elan for the previous two years.
"Whoever won it last year is the favorite until someone bumps them off," said Reason, the head coach at Duluth. "Chateau Elan and Daniel Park have phenomenally good teams. This thing could go either way. We'll have to wait and see.
"I think we can win -- if we swim well."
Yet, Reason wouldn't be surprised if the Thunderbolts swam well and still didn't win.
"That's how good those two teams are," Reason said. "We've got our work cut out for us.
"It's going to be a good one. We do feel good about our chances."
What Creed and Reason had no doubt about was how close it's going to be.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it came down to the last session Sunday night with three of us within 40 or 50 points of each other," Creed said. "When you're scoring 1,600 points, 40 isn't that many."
Going down to the wire is good for the atmosphere -- and the swimmers.
"We won't know until the last race," said Reason, whose team qualified 91 swimmers for the meet. "It's good for the kids. It lets them challenge themselves against the best."
The meet is a big-time event held at Georgia Tech's aquatic center with more than a third of the league's 6,546 swimmers participating in some capacity. It's the culmination of a summer schedule that features crowded meets at neighborhood pools.
"It's a great league," said Creed, who has been involved in swimming for more than 30 years and is the head coach at Mill Creek. "The leadership is just outstanding."
The county meet, which starts at 9 a.m. today, is made possible by league members and more than 500 volunteers, many of whom help each year despite no longer having kids swimming on a team.
"My hat's off to the parent volunteers," Creed said. "This is the best run meet and we're excited.
"We think we have a chance. I take the Vince Dooley approach -- we'll see where the chips fall, but we'll give it our best effort."
Creed might have given the edge to the Thunderbolts, but was quick to add Daniel Park and Lansmoore to the list of title contenders.
"I think it's going to be very tight," Creed said. "Daniel Park is a team to look out for. They're very strong. Lansmoore is also very competitive. They beat the Thunderbolts in a dual last week, but it's hard to go on that dual because it was the July 4th week and you don't know who is missing who.
"You kind of have to favor the Thunderbolts."
Creed said the relay races will be critical for Chateau Elan in all the age groups. He's also looking forward to the matchup between Chris Powell and Duluth's Anthony McMurray.
"Those were great races last year and I'm sure they will be again," Creed said.
Chateau Elan has a strong group of girls in the 13-14 age division with a couple seated in the top two.
"Aside from that, there will be a lot of good races," Creed said.
The Thunderbolts are deeper than they were last year. The team's strength continues to be in the older age groups, but Reason was excited about the 11-12 girls relays, which are ranked 1-2.
"All our age groups are solid, but our older kids are going to carry us," Reason said.
Daniel Park, coached by Kathy Janzen, is strong across the board.
"Kathy has a phenomenal team over there," Reason said. "They don't have a weak age group."