Westford soaks in the glory
Gardner competitors are noticeably absent
A standout performance by sophomore Jen Marrkand helped Westford dominate the pool en route to winning the MIAA Division 1 Girls’ Swimming state title, but yesterday’s meet was almost as much about who wasn’t at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool than who was.
Gardner, a perennial powerhouse and a favorite to win the state title, was absent, as most of the Warriors decided to skip the event in protest of the school’s treatment of longtime head coach Don Lemieux.
On Thursday, Gardner school officials informed Lemieux, who has led the Warriors to 16 state championships, that he would not be allowed to accompany the team to the meet, reportedly for practice violations. Lemieux was not suspended, but as a result, stepped down as coach.
Although the school had informed the team that it would be accompanied to the meet by the school principal and athletic director, only three of the swimmers chose to participate. The most notable no-show was junior Taylor Strachan, one of the top swimmers in the state. Last week at the South/Central sectionals, she broke meet records in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 200 individual medley.
Had Strachan attended, the 200 IM may have been a great showdown between her and Marrkand. Marrkand not only won the event yesterday, she set a meet record (2 minutes, 2.78 seconds), earning All-America consideration.
Marrkand also earned All-America consideration in the 100 freestyle (51.52 seconds), and was a member of the two winning Grey Ghost relays: the 200 medley relay (1:47.97) and the 400 freestyle relay (1:36.45), the last of which she anchored and helped edge King Philip by a mere .02 seconds.
Westford coach Caitlin Klick considered Marrkand’s performance to be the cherry on top of a fantastic year for the young swimmer.
“Jen has just been unreal,’’ she said. “She will swim anything for the team and swim it well. She’s been undefeated this season throughout our league meets and now our state meets.’’
The Grey Ghosts amassed 305 points to win the title, well ahead of last year’s state champion, Lincoln-Sudbury (202), and King Philip (201).
Junior captain Kelly Huber also had a successful day for Westford. She narrowly defeated Franklin’s Alyssa Carle in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:07.18, and was on both of the winning relays.
King Philip’s Nasson siblings, Stephanie and Sydney, found themselves placing first and third, respectively, in both the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle. Stephanie’s time of 4:57.87 in the 500 freestyle earned her All-America consideration.
Concord-Carlisle’s Meghan O’Brien placed first on the diving boards with a score of 461.80. Her brother, Division 2 state champion Sean O’Brien, broke the meet record Saturday.
The three Gardner swimmers who participated were juniors Sarah Robertson, Christine Legsdin, and sophomore Allison Cheeney. None placed in the top six of their events.