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BOYS SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: Hawks' Powell still has 'room to grow'

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's Chris Powell was named the Daily Post's boys Swimmer of the Year. Powell placed first in the state in the 50 yard freestyle and the 100 yard freestyle.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's Chris Powell was named the Daily Post's boys Swimmer of the Year. Powell placed first in the state in the 50 yard freestyle and the 100 yard freestyle.

HOSCHTON -- Chris Powell came to serious swimming later than most.

He started racing young, 6-years-old, but he stayed away from the year-round programs widely available in Gwinnett County for years. He swam in summer leagues, but he played football in eighth grade.

Not until Powell entered Mill Creek in ninth grade did he start competing constantly, dropping all other sports and interests from his purview.

"I've only had time for swimming," Powell said.

Now he trains at the Athens Bulldog Swim Club in the same pool he'll compete in next year for Georgia.

But before he joins the Bulldogs, the Daily Post's boys Swimmer of the Year left his mark at Mill Creek in his senior year.

The natural sprinter won both the county and state meet in the 50 and 100 freestyle races and he qualified for the state meet in eight events (50, 100, 200 and 500 free, 200 individual medley, 100 back, breast and fly). The qualifying feat earned him Mill Creek's Iron Hawk Award and winning two individual state titles capped off a four-year career of steady improvement for Powell.

"It's breathtaking to see how it went, and just watching so many good swimmers go out there and duke it out their senior year, it was pretty rewarding to come out on top," he said. "I didn't expect it. I would have hoped it to go out my way. I have learned with swimming not to expect it."

Powell learned, through failure, not to approach swimming with expectations. As a sophomore, he entered the state meet certain of a title. He finished out of the top 3.

"From there, it's been a huge learning process with swimming," Powell said. "I have learned never to expect something. Always hope for something, always try to reach that goal but just as God gives it to you, he can take it away. I have to work as hard as I can to try to get there, it's not all said and done until it's done."

Training in Athens, Powell didn't spend much practice time with Mill Creek. ("I do my work for them at meets," he said). He did swim on relays and was a vocal presence on the deck during meets. He proudly wears his Mill Creek letter jacket and said he never considered not swimming for his high school team.

"My No. 1 loyalty is still with the high school team," Powell said. "There is nothing greater (than high school swimming). High school swimming is just fun. You get around the people you go to school with and you just have fun. There are so many opportunities to be with each other and build relationships."

His high school coach at Mill Creek, Rick Creed, first coached Powell in summer leagues at age 12. He watched a natural athlete drop more than six seconds off his 100 free time in four years and, as Powell also admitted, believes his late start in the sport drew salivating college coaches.

"He's got natural strength and natural speed, but there is still more room for improvement," Creed said. "That's why a lot of college coaches coveted him because they saw someone who had not spent a lot of time in the weight room and hasn't specialized yet."

Or as Powell put it: "I was fresh meat or something."

Something more than that. Creed compares Powell's competitiveness to Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau, who he coached at Parkview. He tells of that sophomore season where Powell didn't finish where he wanted to with a different perspective.

"I said, 'Chris, you did well for a 10th-grader,' and he said, 'Coach I don't want to do well for a 10th- grader, I want to do well for a swimmer,'" Creed said. "That told me he really was a true competitor. He's been great for our program."