Walton, St. Pius boys surprise winners at state meet

Photo by Craig Sager II

Two first-time team state swimming champions were crowned in the A-AAAAA state meet on Saturday and multiple individual state records were set. The St. Pius X boys scored 199 points and edged second-place Marist (191.0) while the Woodward Academy girls accumulated 229.0 points to top second-place Westminster (203.0).

St. Pius X had to place ahead of Marist in the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, in order to clinch its state championship.

“We knew we were in the hunt and we knew everything needed to go right,” said St. Pius X coach Scott Carter.

UGA-signee Gunnar Bentz was the anchor of the four-man relay and punched the wall at 3.09.23 to give the Golden Lions their state championship. Bentz swam a state record 1:45.55 race in the 200 medley and scored another first place finish for St. Pius X and a state record in the 100 butterfly with a 47.26 time.

North Hall’s Paul Powers broke his own record in the 100 freestyle with a time of 43.19 and Dalton sophomore Ethan Young broke a 14-year state record in the backstroke on Friday and then broke his one-day state record with a 47.54 finish on Saturday.

The Woodward Academy girls were paced by Caitlin Cooper, who was involved in three state records on Saturday. Cooper broke two individual records, previously set by Olympian Amanda Weir. In the 50 meter freestyle, Cooper clocked a 22.75 before posting a record-setting 49.78 in the 100 freestyle. In the 4×50 freestyle relay, Cooper was the opening leg of the relay and teammates Joelle Borchers, Charlotte Bernot and Kathleen Cook followed Cooper’s fast start and set a new state record at 1:34:87.

North Paulding’s Stephanie Peters won individual state titles in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.

In the Class AAAAAA state championship meet, the Walton boys scored 224.5 points and ended a streak of 14 years in which a Gwinnett County school has won the boys state championship in Georgia’s highest classification. The Raiders’ last boys state swimming title came in 1983, and it took a come-from-behind second-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay (the final event) to gain the crucial points needed to hold off runner-up Chattahoochee. The Cougars, led by triplets Mick, Jay and Kevin Litherland, finished with 218.0 total points and multiple state records. In the 400 freestyle relay, the UGA-bound triplets and Jacob Rubin broke the previous state record by more than two seconds and clocked a 3:04.08. Jay Litherland won the individual state title in the 100 backstroke and set the state record in the 100 breaststroke minutes later.

Kevin Litherland won the 200 freestyle state title with a 1.37.36 time and grabbed first place in the 500 yard freestyle with a time of 4:22.91. Walton’s state championship was a result of depth and the Raiders did not place first in any of the 12 events on Saturday. Second place finishes in the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle were supported by four third place finishes, three fifth place and one eight for the state champion Raiders.

The Lambert girls won a second consecutive state title in Georgia’s top class and scored 279.0 total points to outscore second place Johns Creek’s total of 246.5. The Longhorns won the 200 medley to open the meet and also placed first in the 4×50 freestyle relay. The decisive moment came in the relay, as Megan Bestor, Emma Fish, Aubrey Jones and Katherine Aikins edged second-place Milton by two one-hundreths of a second (1:35.65) and gave the Longhorns one of their two 20-point events.


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