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Brookwood's Muller works her way into an elite swimmer

From what Jack Gayle remembers, Rachel Muller wasn't the kid who eagerly jumped into the pool when she joined the 6-and-unders in the Gwinnett County Swim League.

Muller, now a senior at Brookwood, got comfortable in the pool pretty quickly though, after Gayle's sister, Erin, taught her how to swim.

"I think she really found out that she enjoyed swimming," Jack Gayle, formerly Muller's summer league coach, said.

From there, she began developing into her current status as the most accomplished high school swimmer on the Broncos, in part from the boost into competitive swimming she got from Gayle, who is now the head coach at Muller's rival, Parkview.

"We didn't even know what the county meet was," Muller said. "We were on vacation and we got a call from (Gayle) and he asked if I was going to county. And we were like, 'What is county?' ... Jack told us that I could be a pretty good swimmer if I stuck to it."

Not long after that summer league success, Muller joined a year-round team at SwimAtlanta. She worked her way up to the club's highest level, growing into one of the state's top swimmers.

She is expected to contend for multiple high school state titles this season, her last before swimming collegiately at North Carolina State.

"I never would have guessed how far she's come," Gayle said. "I'm just amazed that that little girl has turned into a phenom. I think she's one of those swimmers who has worked for everything she's gotten. She discovered she had some talent for it when she was young and she's magnified that talent with hard work and dedication to year-round swimming."

Muller's progression through year-round swimming has taken off in recent years. She swam with SwimAtlanta's Senior II team as an eighth-grader, then moved up to Senior I and its longer practices early in her freshman season at Brookwood.

That jump was a tough one, she said.

"That was the hardest week ever," Muller said. "But that made me the swimmer I am now. From there, I met Lydia (Jones) and she pushed me to do my best. From there, I wanted to be the best I could be."

By January of her sophomore year, Muller bumped up to the Select team with Jones, who swims for Archer and also is headed to N.C. State. The two are best friends and Muller credits the Archer standout for part of her success.

"(Jones) pushed me to where I am now," Muller said.

The early advice from Gayle and regular motivation from Jones have fueled Muller, who was one of the main contributors to Brookwood's Class AAAAA state championship team last season.

After a solid freshman season (she was 16th and 22nd in her individual races at state), Muller took a huge jump as a sophomore with a pair of fourth-place finishes. She was third in the 500 freestyle at state last season and runner-up in the 200 free, putting up automatic All-American times in both events.

Entering her senior season, she has Brookwood top-10 times in six different events for the county's most accomplished high school program in girls swimming. She broke two-time Olympian Amanda Weir's school record in the 500 free last season and currently sits just 0.37 seconds off the 200 free mark of Weir, who also trains at SwimAtlanta.

"When I first met Rachel's parents at the registration meeting of her freshman year they told me that she was a hard worker and would do whatever I needed her to do to help the team," Brookwood coach Greg Puckett said. "I hear this from many freshman parents who are deservedly proud of their children so I usually just nod my head and wait to see the evidence later. It turns out they may have actually undersold Rachel. To call her a hard worker may be somewhat of an understatement."

Muller is still a bit surprised by her swimming success. Recalling one of her top races from her junior season, the 400 free relay at the county meet, she still can't believe it.

"Sometimes I feel like that wasn't even real," she said.

That meet-ending relay drummed up plenty of excitement at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center.

Brookwood fell to third place before Muller's anchor leg, trailing leaders Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek by two to three seconds. But she tracked both of those teams down and swam her 100 free leg in 50.58 seconds, edging both and giving the Broncos' the county title in the relay. It also capped an evening that saw Muller break county-meet records in both the 200 and 500 free races.

"When I dove in (for the 400 free relay), I could hear people screaming and then everything went dead silent, I couldn't hear anything," Muller said. "When I finished, I was like, 'What happened? Did we win?' I looked up and swam the 1 (for our lane) and I was like, 'How did that happen?'"

Brookwood will rely heavily on Muller again this season. The Broncos lost some key swimmers to graduation, but they have a talented group coming back as well as some freshmen who will help the program.

"We want to see if we can win state again and we definitely want to win county, too," Muller said. "We have big goals and we may as well go for them."