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By Christopher Tremblay

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In its sixth year (one as a co-op and five as an individual team), the Ashland swimming and diving program has recorded its best dual season in school history. The Clockers finished 4-1 in dual meets to end up in second place in the Tri-Valley League (TVL) behind Hopkinton. As the program continues to improve, the number of athletes (nine boys and 17 girls make up this year’s squad) coming out for the team has not only increased but the quality of athletes has, as well.

“While the team remained relatively small, we improved by focusing on our strengths and using them to our advantage,” co-captain Elizabeth Lee said. “Motivation also played a key role in this season’s success. We pushed ourselves every day in and out of the pool, and with that, more relays qualified for the Sectionals and States, meaning more swimmers were able to participate in championships.”

Leading Ashland in the water this winter has been senior captains Craig Barrett and Lee. Both seniors have not only guided their teammates outside of the pool, but have also led by example in the water. Barrett is a versatile swimmer who excels in the 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly, while Lee’s strength is in the 50 and 100 freestyle as well as swimming the third leg on the relay team.

Barrett captured first place in both the 200 free and 100 fly at the TVL Conference Meet, and at the Sectionals he grabbed first place in the 200, setting a new TVL record and breaking his own record with a time of 1:45.43. His coach is looking for him to take his skills to the next level.

“Craig has really yet to be really challenged,” Ashland coach Anne Meisner said. “He’s a year-round swimmer who’s hard to beat when he’s on. When he comes to a meet, he’s ready to swim and winning is on his radar.”

Not to be outdone, Lee placed third in the TVL Championships in the 50 as well as swimming in the medley and 200 freestyle relay. Lee participates in the third leg of the freestyle relay, swimming the butterfly. Junior Lauren Grasberger swims the backstroke to begin the relay, freshman Lauren Mangiaratti swims the breaststroke in the second leg, and junior Jackie Pecze rounds out the race with the freestyle.

“She [Lee] is a great leader with enough experience to teach the rest of the team how to approach each meet. She gets them headed in the right direction,” the coach said. “Elizabeth is seeded in the top six of the 100 freestyle, knows it’s her last go around, and knows what needs to be done to go out on top.”

Junior diver Erin Keaveny, who has qualified for the tournament, finished second in the TVL and holds the school record in both the 6 and 11 dives. Although a very talented diver, coach Meisner has difficulty watching her perform.

“When she is on, she’s difficult to beat,” the coach said. “I love watching her dive, but she makes me so nervous as it’s a judged controlled sport. It’s not black and white. She may do phenomenal in my eyes, but the judges may see it another way.

One other athlete who has risen to the top this season is sophomore Roger Gu, who took second in the 50 freestyle at the TVL with a time of 23.23 and who was first in the 100 freestyle with a time of 50.60.

“We’re hoping that Roger can break that 50 second threshold in the 100,” Meisner said. “It’s going to be tough, but he has natural ability and technique when he’s in the water.”

In addition to Barrett’s first place finish in the 200, the senior also finished eighth in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:04.82. Gu also took home an eighth place finish in the 100 free and an 11th place finish in the 50 free. The boys relay team of senior Eamon Sheil, sophomore Shawn Lee, Gu and Barrett finished fifth in the 200 freestyle relay and ninth in the 400 freestyle relay.

For the girls, it was Lee finishing 13th in the 50 free and 10th in the 100 free; Pecze was eighth in both the 50 and 100 free; Grasberger touched the wall second in the 100 fly and sixth in the backstroke; Mangiaratti was 14th in the breaststroke; Keaveny was 11th in diving and the team of Lee, Pecze, Mangiaratti and Grasberger were fourth and fifth in the 200 medley and 200 free relays respectively.

While Meisner has continually praised her team, Barrett believes it all starts with the coach.

“I think this season was so successful because of our new head coach,” Barrett said. “She fired everyone up, trained us to race and pushed us, with that we trained harder than any other year while still having fun. We had some strong swimmers, who we knew would swim fast, but we also had some new swimmers who really stepped up.”

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