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Lecanto boys stretch season to perfection

By the outstretched arm of the final swimmer in the final race, the Lecanto High boys swimming team was able to complete its first undefeated season.

Sophomore Matt Hampton, the anchor on the Panthers' 400-yard freestyle relay team, came from behind to reach the wall in 3 minutes, 42.40 seconds. Springstead was a mere 2.20 seconds behind, but the margin was enough to give the Panthers an 87-83 victory for an 11-0 mark.

The Lecanto boys broke nine schools records this season.

"I was so pleased they were able to accomplish that at the end there," said Lecanto coach Paul Brundage, who received a post-meet dunking in the pool.

"My plan was rather than having the strongest medley relay team early in the meet, to have strong freestyle relay teams," he said of the meet against perennial North Suncoast power Springstead. "But they had the same plan. So the meet, which had individual winners on both sides and close races throughout, was decided by the relays."

Neither team had diving squads, eliminating the possibility for another episode in a controversy that has swelled around the Lecanto program this season.

Brundage, who did not have anyone on his team interested in diving until this season, discovered that the pools used for local meets _ Inverness' Whispering Pines Park and Crystal River's Bicentennial Park _ did not meet standard safety regulations. He refused to let his team dive in non-regulation pools, forcing schools to eliminate the diving competition and the possibility for 13 points the Panthers would rarely have earned.

Though opposing coaches could not dispute that the pools were not regulation, they were disgruntled by the loss of the diving portion of meets held at Whispering Pines, home pool for Citrus High, and Bicentennial, home pool for Lecanto and Crystal River.

The Panthers beat Citrus by two points at Whispering Pines (the Hurricanes' only loss of the season) and Crystal River by three points at Bicentennial Park.

Against Crystal River, the Pirates were awarded the 13 diving points because Lecanto, as the home team, had not notified Crystal River within two weeks prior to the meet that there would not be diving. The Panthers chose not to take the same 13 points against Citrus, Brundage said.

"Everything in the school-policy handbooks indicates you adhere to the letter of the rules," said Brundage. "Everything in terms of our contract with the Florida High School Activities Association says we did what was appropriate. And I think regardless of the controversy, they have earned what they accomplished."