Saint Stephen's regroups to win state championship despite 400 relay disqualification
A few dozen feet away from where Saint Stephen’s was about to be recognized for another silver medal, no one with the Falcons’ coaching staff was quite ready to celebrate.
Athletic director Lenny Paoletti frantically scrolled through his phone for a crash course on tiebreaking procedures. Head coach A.J. Brown reflected on the unorthodox path Saint Stephen’s had taken to the top spot in Class 1A.
What would they do with the trophy in a tie situation, someone wondered.
During a two-day stretch during which seemingly everything that could have gone wrong for the Falcons did, Saint Stephen’s still pulled out the state team championship, finishing in a tie atop the 1A meet’s points standings with Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy. Both teams produced 42 points.
“We had the pieces that we felt like we really could’ve ran away with it,” Brown said, “but at the end of the day these kids fought their heart out.”
The Falcons, who have never had an individual champion in program history, briefly had their first Saturday, only to have the 400 relay’s championship stripped because of an illegal handoff. A number of other second-place performance looked like potential victories until late passes in the final seconds or steady fades down the final stretches.
42Points for both Saint Stephen’s and Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy to share the Class 1A team title.
Ultimately, Saint Stephen’s won its first team championship without a single individual champion. The Falcons received second-place performances from Andrew Csubak in the 800, Lethario Jones Jr. in the 400, their 1,600-relay team and their 3,200 relay. Csubak, who also ran both relays, added a bronze medal in the 1,600, and Henry Howell scored points with a fifth-place finish in the 800.
“At the end of the day, man, we did it together,” Brown said, “and that’s what we set out to do.”
The difference between first and second in Csubak’s 800 was 0.14 seconds. The difference in Jones’ 400 was 0.65.
No call, though, was as close as the 100 relay, which Saint Stephen’s believed it had won for minutes after crossing the finish line.
Chase Brown charged across the finish line in 43.46 seconds, beating out Westminster Academy by 0.22 seconds for the first individual championship in school history. Brown waited near the podium for his teammates and the call to the top that would never come — the Falcons had been disqualified for an early handoff in the first exchange zone.
Had Saint Stephen’s victory in that event stood, the Falcons would have been the outright champions — although the same could also be said about Westminster, which was also disqualified in the event for stepping out of its lane in the third exchange zone. Saint Stephen’s had set its sights upon winning a state championship after winning its first team district and region titles last month, and the mishap nearly thwarted it.
“God gave us a second chance,” Brown said, “and we took it.”
Jones, who ran the opening leg of the 400, quickly turned around to run the 400 about 15 minutes later, and his silver medal put the Falcons back on track. Csubak’s bronze in the 1,600 vaulted Saint Stephen’s into a three-way tie for first entering the 1,600 relay, the final event of the night. All the Falcons had to do was finish in the top two to clinch a share of their first state championship.
God gave us a second chance, and we took it.
A.J. Brown, Saint Stephen’s head coach
With two members of the disqualified 400 team, Jones and Jordon Murrell, in the lineup for the final race, Saint Stephen’s took care of business to complete a sweep of postseason hardware.
“It’s always a possibility, but nothing’s set in stone,” Csubak said. “It’s obviously unexpected, so we’re all really happy about it.”
John Rivera, Lakewood Ranch, 800
Lakewood Ranch (Andrew Dean, Brice Easton, Jonathan Reid, John Rivera), 1,600 relay
Sophia Falco, Lakewood Ranch, long jump, triple jump
Seth Walter, Manatee, long jump
Saint Stephen’s boys, team title
Saraiah Walkes, Out-of-Door Academy, 100, 200, 400