Before this season started, Lee girls basketball coach Gary Wellington told his team last year was on him.
The Wildcats responded by taking him back to the state tournament in his final season.
"It's sweet to know my system worked," Wellington said after the Wildcats' Western Massachusetts final win. "I was able to keep this program where it's always been. I talked to [former] coach [Tom] Cinella a minute ago. He's super proud of these guys, super proud of the program. It's nice to have it where it always was and maybe lift it a notch over the last five years."
Wellington will try to elevate Lee again today when the Wildcats travel to Worcester for the Division III state semifinals inside the DCU Center. Lee plays University Park of Worcester at 4:15 p.m.
The one-day turnaround is one of the shortest Wellington remembers. He said University Park (23-1), the top seed in Central Mass., operates its offense through two quick guards. Wellington ran the team through a two-hour practice on Sunday in preparation for today.
"We're ready to play," he said. "Everybody's relaxed. Now the monkey's off our back."
A year ago, Lee's season was long over after the Wildcats fell victim to rival Lenox in the Western Mass. semifinals. Wellington said he made mistakes, letting his team "get out of sorts" down the stretch in that semifinal loss.
He was more aggressive with his timeouts in the 58-51 win over Sabis on Saturday, not wanting to let a Western Mass.
This isn't just the last run for Wellington, but for another talented group of Lee seniors. That includes Stephanie Young -- a 1,000-point scorer who has 57 points in her last two games -- and Eileen Dooley, who gushed about the chance to play in Worcester one last time.
"I'm so excited," Dooley said. "I want to go all the way. This is my last time I'll ever be playing basketball like ever with this team. I just want to make the best of it."
Wellington said after the win this would be his final season. His daughter Niki, also one of his assistants, is getting married in Hawaii in three weeks and her dad will be there. In five seasons Wellington has won four Western Mass. titles and a state championship. His daughter has been there for three of them.
"Pretty special for me and Niki," Gary Wellington said. "I got an opportunity to coach with my daughter which is something we always wanted to do. We were able to win a title -- a couple of them really, that's our third one together. It's pretty special to me.
"And to go out this way, can't get any better especially with a group of kids like this."
To reach Christopher James:
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On Twitter: @BECJ2K