The answer, no matter who is asked at SwimAtlanta, comes without hesitation.
The question — are Brookwood’s Lily Burke and Parkview’s Abby McCulloh similar in their approach to swimming?
“I think it’s the difference in night and day,” SwimAtlanta coach Chris Davis said.
“We’re very different,” the Parkview junior said. “I’m a very Type A personality and Lily is really relaxed. She really balances me out and teaches me how to have fun and not be so in my head all the time. We’re a good match for each other.”
The differing approaches seem to work well for the duo, who share the Daily Post Girls Swimmer of the Year honor for a second straight high school season.
“I think Lily has more fun with it, is more social with it,” Davis said. “Abby, I don’t want to say it’s a business. But she’s honed in, it’s business. Where Lily is more of a social person, it’s a social event, it’s fun. It’s fun to go fast and work hard. I think Abby, that’s probably the way she is with everything, in school, in anything she does. She goes at it 100 percent, 100 percent focus. Lily is a very hard worker and does a great job, too. I do have to remind her occasionally that, ‘Hey, we’re at practice.’ She’s having just as much fun talking and being social.”
Those differences haven’t kept Burke and McCulloh from becoming close friends since Burke moved from out of state prior to her freshman season. They train in different freestyle events — Burke in sprints and McCulloh in distance — but still spend plenty of time together.
“Last year we had a training trip to Auburn and we got super close on that because we were roommates,” Burke said. “This year we had the training trip and we all got super close. We’ve just been really close friends, especially since we only live 5 minutes away from each other. The (Brookwood-Parkview) border is super close.”
“Lily is one of my closest friends,” McCulloh said. “It’s really nice with the Parkview-Brookwood girls. Obviously all the girls in Select (at SwimAtlanta) are really close, but the Parkview-Brookwood girls, we all live within 10 minutes of each other, so we hang out a ton.”
Their time together allows them to appreciate the other’s strengths.
“(McCulloh’s) amazing,” Burke said. “Every time I watch her, she’s just going crazy fast. She’s always ahead. If she’s ever behind, we’re like, ‘Don’t worry, she’ll catch up.’ She’s so fast. She’s amazing. She’s a great person in and out of the pool.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Lily just has a natural aggression in the pool,” McCulloh said. “She’s a fierce competitor. She’s really good at putting herself in the mindset to race. I always get really nervous before I swim. I try and emulate her confidence and the speed she has when she races. It’s really impressive.”
The high school season makes them rivals, though their head-to-head competition is limited to relays, where each swims the anchor leg. At state, Brookwood finished as runner-up in the 200-yard free relay in 1 minute, 36.24 seconds, just ahead of Parkview’s third-place 1:36.62. Burke’s anchor swim for 50 yards was 23.13, and McCulloh swam 23.90.
Parkview flipped the result in the meet-ending 400 free relay, winning the state title in 3:29.26 with McCulloh posting the foursome’s fastest 100 split at 51.42. Brookwood was fourth in 3:32.96 despite a 51.05 split from Burke.
“We were really excited to win the 4 free relay, that was our goal the whole season,” McCulloh said. “Every time we got behind the blocks, we were getting ready for state, like, ‘We’re going to win it.’ That was my main goal and we achieved that, so I was happy.”
McCulloh had another great high school season individually, too. She swept the Gwinnett championships in the distance free races, winning the 200 free in a county-record 1:47.86 and taking first in the 500 free in a county-meet record 4:44.86.
She followed it up with repeat state titles in both of those events.
“Abby is currently the most dominant female distance swimmer in Georgia,” Parkview coach Eric Brown said. “In fact, she won the 500 freestyle at Junior Nationals in December. This year for Parkview, Abby won the 200 and 500 freestyle events at both county and state, and broke her own two school records in those events. Abby was probably more excited about her 400 freestyle relay, which she anchored to a state championship. She is a fantastically gifted swimmer, and she exceeds that giftedness with an incredible work ethic.”
McCulloh’s winning times at state were 1:47.95 in the 200 free and 4:46.21 in the 500 free. She has gone as low as 4:41 in the 500 free, leaving the state record as a realistic goal for her senior season. Olympian Elizabeth Hill has the state record, set in 2004, at 4:40.93.
“I know I’m capable of (breaking the record),” said McCulloh, who committed to the Auburn swimming program in November. “It’s just a matter of executing.”
Burke had a similar impact on Brookwood’s team.
She swept the county championships in the 200 individual medley (2:03.50) and 100 free (51.05), then repeated her 2019 state titles in those same two events. She won the 100 free at state in 51.12, and was first in the 200 IM in 2:01.98.
The Broncos finished second in the team standings, coming up just short in their quest for three state titles in a row.
“Lily is that rare swimmer who has made an enormous impact on our team since she first stepped foot in Brookwood as a freshman,” Brookwood coach Jack Gayle said. “This season, as one of our captains, Lily was a rock star, once again winning two events at county and two events at state. When it became clear that we were going to fall just short of Lassiter for the state championship, Lily kept her head up and continued to encourage the other swimmers to celebrate the amazing accomplishment that is a second-place finish, not to be discouraged or disappointed.
“Afterwards, Lily went around hugging and crying with the other girls, not because the team didn’t win but because the season had come to an end and the journey was done. I can’t imagine Brookwood swim and dive without Lily B., but I’m glad I won’t have to for one more season.”
Burke has high hopes for her senior season, none more important than a third team state championship in four seasons. Fellow junior Reagan Sweeney, who was second and third in her two events at state, also returns next season for for the Broncos.
“I know our team, we obviously wanted to win state, but it was still a really good season for all my friends,” Burke said. “A lot of girls from our team that didn’t have state cuts last year got state cuts this year. It was really fun to watch that all happen. … We’re only losing two senior girls that scored at state. We definitely have a lot of people coming back and we have a lot of freshmen coming up. It’s really exciting. Hopefully, we’ll be able to win state next year. We’re just going to have fun like we usually do.”