St. Johns County displayed is dominance in the pool as Creekside edged Bartram Trail for the second straight year and Nease finished fifth. The Bears and Knights finished second and third in the boys competition.

Another year, another magical night in the pool for the Creekside Knights.

The Knights repeated as state girls swimming champions in Class 3A, edging out neighbor Bartram Trail for the second consecutive year and becoming Northeast Florida's first back-to-back public school champion in nearly 80 years at Friday night's FHSAA championships at the Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Center in Stuart.

"It's always hard (to repeat) in swimming, because everyone's gunning for you," Creekside coach Tracy Da Costa said. "Staying No. 1 is hard to maintain."   This time, the Knights' race with the Bears went down to the wire, with Creekside pulling out a four-point victory (241-237) that wasn't assured until the team of Emma Chestang, Shannon Campbell, Brooke Arnold and Anna Moore placed third in the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Even though Bartram Trail's Summer Stanfield, Lexi Smith, Haley Harris and Nicole Sowell won the relay in All-American time (3:27.95), the Knights' third-place points pulled out the victory.

"The girls were exhausted," De Costa said. "We just had to have clean takeoffs. We had to finish in the top four — if we had finished fourth we would have won by one point — but only two of my swimmers knew that."

Nease finished fifth with 144 points. St. Johns County also showed its dominance on the boys side with Bartram Trail placing second overall behind Venice with 202 points and Creekside third with 195 points.

Creekside's success means that for the fourth straight year, a St. Johns County team is lifting a state championship in the pool. Creekside's boys won the 3A title in 2015, and Bartram Trail's girls took first place in 2016.

"It's joyful, because these kids (from Creekside and Bartram) grew up together," Da Costa said. "Our schools are five minutes apart. They're neighborhood friends. One of our kids was saying, 'Could you imagine if our two teams were together?'"

The night started in splendid style for the Creekside girls in the opening event, the 200 medley relay, when Jenny Bird, Madison Koutavas, Grace Gavin and Chestang combined to swim 1:46.03, an exact tie with Land O'Lakes Sunlake for first place.

It was the third time in five years that Creekside won the medley relay at state, but the tie concerned Da Costa, who knew every point would count in the competition with Bartram.

"We lost three points (by not winning the event outright). I knew it was going to come down to a margin under 15 points, so I was wondering how are we going to make up the points," Da Costa said.

It was superb depth that tipped the scales in favor of the Knights, who placed three girls in the backstroke final, earned podium spots in all girls relays and also won a boys individual title with Ian Cooper's 45.58 in the 100 free.

Creekside wasn't the only area team celebrating. Nease sophomore Olivia Peoples repeated as champion in the girls 100 breaststroke, and joined teammates Ria Malhotra, Hannah Kim and Haven Hinkle to win the 200 free relay. Peoples took second in the individual medley behind Bartram Trail's Stanfield, while Malhotra got onto the podium in both girls sprints (second in 50 free, third in 100 free).

Bartram Trail, meanwhile, swept the individual medleys with Stanfield and Jack VanDeusen winning titles, while Stanfield also won the girls 100 butterfly. VanDeusen took second in the boys 500 free, Luke Williams finished third in the boys 50 free and the quartet of Chris Sylvester, Jacob Camp, Mason Campbell and Williams won the 200 free relay.

For Creekside, the victory moves them into rare company as Northeast Florida's first public school to go back-to-back in girls swimming since Fletcher in 1940 and 1941.

"This was new excitement this year, because we had new swimmers. We had two freshmen (at state) who were wide open to the whole experience," Da Costa said. "It was its own state championship, not a repeat state championship.

"We're a building program and we're looking for a third one next year."

 

Sports editor Brent Woronoff contributed to this story