ATLANTA -- It was a day of firsts and a day of goodbyes Saturday for the Deerfield boys and girls swim teams.
The Knights and Lady Knights' five seniors -- Taylor Withers, Beau Sinyard, Daniel Talley, Carolina Hawkins and Savannah Hughes -- went out on a high note as the boys placed at the state meet for the first time in school history since the program was founded in 1991 -- winning state runner-up at the GISA meet at Georgia Tech -- and the girls finished third overall.
Winning individual state titles was Withers (50 freestyle, 100 free) and the 200 boys freetyle relay team of Withers, Ashton Wahbeh, Matthew Fox and Sinyard.
"It's so exciting," DWS coach Lorraine Withers said. "We're bringing a trophy back to Albany for the first time ever. It's an amazing accomplishment."
Added Taylor, the coach's son and three-time Herald Player of the Year for boys swimming: "Four state titles in two years is great, but ending strong like this meant more than anything. To think that last year, we were just hoping to have a few people place to where we are now. It's beyond exciting."
The Knights came within seven points of winning it all, falling just short in the final race as Augusta Prep won the crown for the third straight year. Mount de Sales won the girls, followed by runner-up St. Andrews and then Deerfield.
Nonetheless, it was an emotional moment for Hawkins and her teammates.
"This is a pretty big deal for me -- for us all," said Hawkins, who was the girls' highest individual finisher in any race Saturday, taking sixth place in the 200 free, 100 butterfly and 500 free. "I've been swimming for years and this is probably the last time I'll ever get into a pool and compete, so it was such a nice way to (end my career)."
Hawkins also paced the girls 200 freestyle team to a third-place finished, along with Hughes, Camille Fox and Hailey Daugherty, while the girls 200 medley team finished fifth. That team was made up of Fox, Emily McPeters and Daughtrey. Daugherty and Fox -- the future of the girls team -- also had great individual days as Daugherty placed in three races (6th in the 50 free, 7th in the 500 free and 7th in the 200 free), while Fox placed in two (8th in the 600 free and 6th in the 200 IM).
Hawkins said afterward she gives all the credit to the coaches who have pushed Deerfield from an unknown program into one that's now in the center of the spotlight.
"Coach Withers has done a fantastic job, our assistants have done a great job and it just felt great (Saturday) to do this as a team," she said.
The boys, meanwhile, nearly pulled the upset of the tournament when they went from a fifth-place finish last year to almost upsetting the two-time state champs. The Knights were paced by Withers, of course, and got strong individual finishes by Matthew Fox (third in 50 free), Sinyard (9th in 50 free, 4th in 100 breaststroke) and Wahbeh (8th in 100 breast, 5th in 200 free and 3rd in 500 free).
The coach said after the meet was over, she couldn't count the number of people who approached her about the team's remarkable rise.
"I had coaches telling me, 'We watched you. We saw how you prepare, how you swim and organize, and you're becoming an example of the program we want to be,' " said Lorraine Withers, who took over the program six years ago and has lifted it to new heights. "So that was really encouraging to hear. We went from essentially being an unknown to a third-place finish for the girls and second for the boys. I'm not sure, other than winning it all, you can ask for much more than that."
DWS also had three JV swimmers win state: Reagen Allen (200 free); Perin Hancock (50 breast) and Nick Myers (50 breast). The 200 girls relay team of Allen, Hancock, Glena Bridges and Heather Cox also won state, contributing key points to the Lady Knights' third-place finish.