Depleted Wildcats compete; Five swimmers, coach missing.
CAMBRIDGE - Another year, another state swimming championship meet at Harvard University's Blodgett Pool.
But it was a very different experience yesterday for the Gardner High girls' team.
Coach Don Lemieux, who had led the Wildcats to 16 state titles since 1994, stepped down last week after being told by school officials he would not be allowed to accompany the team here.
With only three swimmers competing, five choosing not to attend following Lemieux's resignation, the Wildcats compiled 24 points and finished 24th in a field of 37 Division 1 teams.
A week ago, with their full team and Lemieux at the helm, Gardner won its fifth straight South/Central title.
Yesterday, the Wildcat swimmers were supervised by principal Donna Pierce and assistant principal and acting athletic director Tim McCormick.
School officials have not stated the reasons for Lemieux's forced absence, but sources close to the team have said that it involved alleged violations of MIAA practice rules.
Westford Academy easily won yesterday's state Division 1 title with 305 points. Lincoln-Sudbury was runner-up with 201, edging third-place King Philip Regional by a point.
The Wildcats were represented by juniors Sarah Robertson and Christine Legsdin and sophomore Allison Cheeney.
Robertson and Cheeney finished ninth and 13th, respectively, in the 500 freestyle.
"We were here to represent ourselves after qualifying to be here," said Robertson, who also finished eighth in the 200 individual medley in 2:15.27. "We wanted to compete."
"I feel that we deserve to be here," Cheeney added. "We wanted the chance to swim and we were glad we still had the opportunity to swim for our school."
Legsdin, who attends Oakmont Regional, a co-op swim school with Gardner, finished 20th in the 100 backstroke in 1:04.79.
"I felt I swam very well today, beating my best time by three seconds," she said.
Other area teams and scores included Bromfield, seventh (126.5), Wachusett Regional 12th (58), Westboro 16th (43), Tantasqua 19th (35), Leominster 22nd (27), Algonquin 25th (22) and Shrewsbury 35th (2).
Westboro was led by sophomore Katie Priest, who broke two school records, one her own. In the 200 freestyle, Priest was clocked in 1:56.90.
"That time broke a school record that had stood since 2000," Rangers coach Bethany Bergemann said. "And she broke it by almost a full second."
In the 100 backstroke, Priest bettered her own Ranger record by finishing in 1:00.48, good for fifth.
"Last year I didn't really do as well here," Priest said. "I really improved in this year's meet."
Top area performances also included Wachusett's Brianna Sullivan (fourth, 100 breaststroke, 1:08.72), Bromfield's Katherine O'Shea (third, 50 freestyle, 24.89), Wachusett's 200-medley relay team of Cecelia Mahan, Sullivan, Kayla DeSanty and Shannon Kelley (eighth) and Leominster's Katrin Hayward (ninth, 100 butterfly).
Bromfield picked up 14 overall points on the fifth-place diving performance of Kelly Sherman. Westboro diver Jennifer Litchfield placed 13th, earning the Rangers four points.