A surprise individual champion, a record-tying team championship and a frightening finish - Saturday’s 1A boys state championship race had a little bit of everything, bringing an incredible day of racing to a close at Little Everglades Ranch.
Maclay sophomore Patrick Swain, one month removed from a de-mystifying diagnosis that he had spent the first half of the season running with mononucleosis, sped to victory over the final 200 meters in 15:51.
Swain was the first across finish line, but the race for the team title - a two-way battle between Melbourne Holy Trinity and Winter Park Trinity Prep - was shaping up right behind him.
Holy Trinity seniors Bret Butler (15:56) and Tyler Truitt (16:00) brought home second- and fourth-place finishes, sandwiching Trinity Prep’s Randley Gousse (3rd, 15:56), to help Doug Butler’s squad edged their way to a state-record fifth consecutive championship. That tied the mark previously held by Maclay and coach Gary Droze.
The Tigers nipped the Saints, 51-54, in what was statistically a near-draw with Holy Trinity holding a .13-second edge in combined elapsed time. The decisive points were registered with HTA’s Joe Castagnaro (8th, 16:16) and David Kilgore (10th, 16:23) teaming with Butler and Truitt to offset TP’s pack of Franklin Chase (9th, 16:16), Cole Bosson (13th, 16:34), Ryan Gousse (14th, 16:35) and Griffin Jaworski (15th, 16:40).
Still, most of the eyes in the packed grandstands were focused on the shoulder-to-shoulder duel between North Florida Christian senior and favortie, Whitney Strickland, and Swain, who came roaring down the homestretch off the final curve.
Swain took control when Strickland, who had led much of the way, began to falter as the sprinted for the closing incline. Strickland began to wobble along the inside rail, opening the door for his neighboring rival from Tallahassee.
Virtually reduced to a stagger over the final 150 meters, Strickland collapsed as he crossed the finish line and was immediately carried into the infield where he was treated by paramedics who transported him by ambulance to East Pasco Regional Medical Center.
“They kept him (Strickland) in the hospital a little while, gave him an IV, checked him out and released him,” said NFC coach Jason Bowman. “He’s doing good.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed he didn’t finish first, but happy he finished sixth and was able to finish.”
Swain had all but conceded the day to Strickland, whom he had beaten just once in two seasons.
“I was going for second place coming into this race,” said Swain, who had endured a season-long plateau while coping with mono. “It gave me something to hope for, to know that if I had mono and could do (run well), what could I do now? … I’m so very delirious right now.”
Swain cashed in on a patient early start and made it a three-man race with Strickland and Butler as they entered the interior course loop.
“Going into the little loop we were all together still,” Swain said. “Right over there my coach (Gary Droze) said, ‘Patrick you can win it if you want it.’”
“He (Swain) did a better job than anybody on the team - girls or boys - using the district and the region as a way to build up to a fast finish,” said Droze. “I wish he would have beaten anyone but Whitney, but Whitney will get his due in track season.”
Maclay finished third overall with Patrick Griffin (28th, 17:04), Connor Sweeney(32nd, 17:11) and Austin Stevens (36th, 17:13), working together as a pack behind Swain‘s winning effort.