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ORLANDO — The medal was silver, but the smile on Shore-crest’s Jack Stein showed it meant much more than that.
Stein was unable to successfully defend his diving title in the 3-meter springboard, finishing second Saturday at the Class A state swim meet with 497.95 points.
“Really, I’m just happy to be able to come back here and compete,” Stein said.
What made this year’s medal special was how close Stein came to missing out on the opportunity to even compete for it.
On Nov. 27 last year, weeks after winning his state title, Stein fractured his right ankle and foot in 11 places during warmups. Doctors had to wait two weeks to surgically repair the ankle and foot, now held together by five plates and 30 screws.
Stein wondered if he would be able to walk normal again, much less compete for another title. He resumed diving in May and was back to championship form once the regular season started.
But Stein discovered two weeks ago that he faced another formidable obstacle. Briadam Herrera, a renowned diver who moved from Cuba to Miami three years ago, decided to compete at the high school level for the first time this season at Gulliver Prep.
“Briadam is incredible,” Stein said. “He is known worldwide. I knew when he was here I had about a 5 percent chance of winning.”
Stein’s ankle and foot still swell up during meets and he is apprehensive about performing several of his more difficult dives . He was solid throughout his performance Saturday but was unable to stay with Herrera, who won with 569.25 points.
“Briadam deserved it,” Stein said. “He was tremendous. We’re on two different levels. I’m going to dive for Penn next year. Briadam is on track to be in Rio in the Olympics in four years. Still, I’m happy with everything I did.”
The Chargers’ John Farese was a state runnerup in the 100 back, swimming the event in a personal-best 49.98 seconds. He also was fifth in the 100 free (46.26). Teammate Joshua Chen was fourth in the 100 breast (59.55) and eighth in the 200 individual medley (2:00.14).
Farese and Chen teamed with Alex Grant and Mark Marshburn to finish fifth in the 200 medley relay (1:38.52). That helped Shorecrest’s boys finish seventh in the team standings with 120 points.
Clearwater Central Catholic’s Emma Spilman was fourth in the girls 100 fly in 56.30 seconds.
Jacksonville Bolles won its 25th straight boys team title and 22nd straight girls title. The Bulldogs boys setting national high school marks in the 200 medley relay (1:28.02), 100 fly (Jose Schooling, 46.40), 200 free relay (1:19.27), 100 back (Ryan Murphy, 45.34) and the 400 free relay (2:54.43).
Ridgewood’s Emir Muratovic was 11th in the 50 free (22.04) and 15th in the 100 free (48.61), the highest finish among Pasco County swimmers.