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Easy does it; Hagens' effortless strokes lead Wildcats.

Byline: Jay Gearan

GARDNER - The first time he saw Lindsey Hagens dive into the Greenwood Memorial Pool and swim a few laps, Don Lemieux knew he was watching a future champion.

"I call it easy speed," said Lemieux, who coaches the Greenwood and Gardner High swim teams. "You always look for easy speed, and it seemed like Lindsey was moving easily. All the great ones have it. They don't look that fast in the water, and then when they finish, and you hit the stopwatch, you look down and say, `Wow.'"

That first meeting between coach and future star occurred the summer before her sophomore year in high school. Hagens had completed her freshman year at Westboro High, and had heard a lot about the success of the Greenwood teams and the successive state championships won by the Gardner High girls since 1994.

"Lindsey and her father came to talk with me. She really wanted to see how much she could improve," Lemieux recalled. "I explained what it would take in terms of practice, self-discipline, and the time involved, especially traveling from her home in Westboro every day. Then she swam, and I knew she had great potential."

Hagens joined the Greenwood team that summer, and by the fall became a school-choice student at Gardner High. Now a senior, the 17-year-old Hagens, who had to sit out her sophomore season, is the reigning state champion in the 200-yard freestyle and one of another talented group of Wildcats swimmers who will be aiming for their 15th straight state title in February.

"I loved the Greenwood program right from the start, and after talking it over with my mom and dad, I made the commitment to come to Gardner High, too," said Hagens, who credited her parents, Matthew and Donna, for support, guidance, and the countless car rides from Westboro.

During the week, Hagens often stays at the Ashburnham home of her former teammate, Erica Meissner, also a state champion and now swimming for Auburn University.

"Things have worked out well. We've made it work," said Hagens, who enjoys spending time with her parents in Westboro or visiting her older sister, Erin, in Boston.

In addition to winning the 200 freestyle at the state meet as a junior, Hagens also finished second in the 100 backstroke. The 5-foot-9 star also was part of two relay teams which captured gold medals at the Wellesley College pool.

"I knew right away that Lindsey could become very good," Lemieux said. "She had good body position in the water - a long, effortless stride. The first season with us, she made some amazing drops in time, and then more drops the second year. Then she developed into a Division 1 college scholarship kid."

After recruiting trips to the University of Richmond, Fordham, and Villanova this fall, Hagens, an honor student who plans to major in science, recently committed to Villanova.

"I just loved the campus and the swimming program there," Hagens said, adding with a smile: "Plus, they took me to a Phillies game, so I was pretty much sold."

Hagens, who began swimming at age 8 as a member of a club team in Sudbury, said she loves racing. "When I'm on the blocks, ready to go, it's so exciting. I shut everything out and don't think about anything else."

Explaining her technique in the backstroke, the event she calls her best, Hagens said: "Underwater kicking is the key. And you really have to snap the turns to get off the wall fast."

Also on the blocks for the Wildcats this year are talented swimmers Hannah Kondrotas, Shannan Lambert, Kelsey Dewey, Danielle Sekurski, Eve Barnard, Tina Belletete and Anna McCaie.

Hanging from the balcony above the deep end of the Greenwood Pool in Gardner is an orange-and-black banner with the 14 consecutive state championship years neatly arranged in three columns. There's room for one more banner year in the final column, and 2008 would make it a perfectly symmetrical 15.

"I think it can be done if we come together as a team," Hagens said. "It's all a matter of heart, and having passion."

And easy speed.




CUTLINE: (PHOTO 1) Senior Lindsey Hagens hopes to help Gardner High win its 15th straight state swimming title in February. (PHOTO 2) Already committed to Villanova for next year, senior Lindsey Hagens is focused on leading Gardner to another state title.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 8, 2007
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