Gwinnett County and state championships in four events, as well as Daily Post Girls Swimmer of the Year honors, will be open for someone new in 2022.
Brookwood’s Lily Burke and Parkview’s Abby McCulloh have locked down their events and the Daily Post’s top swimmer award the past three high school seasons, but both are seniors headed to the college swimming world — Burke at Georgia Tech and McCulloh at Auburn.
“Abby and Lily arrived as freshmen ready to shake things up in the high school swimming world, and they did not disappoint,” Parkview coach Eric Brown said. “They quickly became the dominant figure in their respective events. Sometimes our biggest competitors are those that train closest to us, and I think that has been the case for Lily and Abby (who train together at SwimAtlanta). Next year, our county and state meets will look and feel quite different without the presence of Abby and Lily in the water. For four years, we have all known to watch for Abby in distance freestyle and Lily in IM and 100 freestyle. Those events will be wide open next year.”
As they have the previous two years, the duo share the Daily Post Girls Swimmer of the Year award.
“It’s weird to see two swimmers with such ferocious abilities come through two rival high schools at the same time, as part of the same senior class,” Brookwood coach Jack Gayle said. “The fact that they train together is even more ironic. In a way, I think they were both able to enjoy the high school experience more because their responsibilities to their teams were so unique. In a weird way, I think we were all able to enjoy their performances more that way. Swimming here in Gwinnett benefits from swimmers like Lily and Abby, and I feel as though we’ve been especially lucky to watch two phenomenal female athletes for the past four years.”
Burke closes her high school swimming career with seven state championships in her eight individual races at state. She won state in the 100-yard freestyle all four of her high school seasons, as well as taking first in the 200 individual medley her final three seasons — she helped the Broncos to team state titles her first two years at Brookwood.
As a senior, she won the 100 free state title in 51.02 seconds and won the 200 IM in 2:02.69.
“Lily’s consistency is really awesome,” McCulloh said. “The fact that she’s been able to achieve high finishes all her career is awesome. I really respect the sprint grind. I do not know how to do that. Lily has a really aggressive personality in the pool, which I’ve learne from her over the years, to go out and race. Now I’ve learned to be more competitive when I put my mind to the race. It’s cool have somebody at that level to train with.”
Burke, the county champ in both her individual events, swam on a pair of third-place relays as a senior.
“I think every coach secretly hopes that the next freshman class will have a Lily Burke in it, but rarely does such a person materialize,” Gayle said. “To not only have a Lily Burke join your team as a freshman, but continue to defy the odds, exceed expectations and help lead a team to multiple titles and county championships is beyond anything you can imagine as a coach. She is one of the most influential and dominant swimmers in Brookwood history, and that’s on a team that has had no shortage of amazing female swimmers. She won’t just be missed; there will be a vacuum left by her departure that won’t be filled for years to come.”
Brookwood’s rivals down Five Forks-Trickum Road feel the same way.
McCulloh swept the county and state championships in the 200 and 500 freestyle races the past three years, and she leaves a huge void in the Parkview program.
“Abby never seeks to be the center of attention and is extremely humble, yet when she swims, she commands the attention of everyone,” Brown said. “Her perfect stroke, strength and endurance are a sight to behold and we all watch in amazement. On countless occasions, meet officials have come to me and told me how much they enjoy watching Abby swim. I believe she will continue to improve as she moves to Auburn to swim next year. Watch for her name at the SEC and NCAA Championships next spring. I think she is ready to shake things up at the college level like she did in high school.”
As a senior, McCulloh won the 200 free state title in an automatic All-American time of 1:48.37, and was 500 free champion with a time of 4:44.96, below the automatic All-American and NFHS standards.
“I love Abby, she’s such an amazing person and she’s so fast,” Burke said. “Every time I watch her, it’s just amazing. The consistency she does with her 200 and 500, I could never do that with my sprint stuff. She just goes in there and she wants to win. She shows everybody she’s there to win. She goes out there to try and do the best for her team and herself. I think that’s a great quality she has. … It’s just weird that we can do good at so many opposite things. She just trains so much in practice. I just don’t have the endurance to train like that. She does distance every single day, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, that’s all she does.”
As they prepare for college, the two standouts said they will miss high school swimming just as much as the Gwinnett swimming community will miss them.
“I’m going to miss literally everything (at Brookwood),” Burke said. “I came in here and Brookwood was already a known swimming program. I think my class especially just kind of gave it that character it needed. I think I’m definitely leaving Brookwood better than when I came here. This team is just always a part of me. When I moved here from a different state, everyone was so accepting. I’m just really thankful for that. I’ve made friends here that I’ll keep for a lifetime.”
“I’m going to miss the team most of all, just all the cool people I’ve gotten to know with Parkview swimming,” McCulloh said. “I’m going to miss being on the same team with my best friends. The coaches are awesome. I’m going to miss being able to talk to them at school before we have a swim meet. I’m going to miss having a ton of say over what I swim. I’m going to miss a lot about it. But I’m excited about the next chapter.”