Central and Springstead had their respective state qualifier take the stage Friday in the Class 2A FHSAA Finals with one goal: leave with a medal.
Giovanni Squartino from Bears and Jesse Cowan from the Eagles, having competed at this level a year ago, would not be denied this time at the Kissimmee Civic Center.
In the morning session, Cowan, who has been battling a bad wrist all year, found a way to fight through the pain and finish fifth in the 238-pound class with a 355-pound bench press and a 305 clean-and-jerk, totaling 660.
With surgery scheduled for Tuesday, the junior was determined to go all out and reach the awards podium. The top six in each class earned medals.
Despite being limited, Cowan was not there to make excuses, and even went as far as to make it known next year he's coming home with a state championship ring.
“(The wrist) didn't bother me,” Cowan said. “I should have gotten the 320 (third attempt at clean-and-jerk) and I didn't.”
The junior wasn't too disheartened, saying he would only miss 6-8 weeks after surgery and hopes to be ready to play with a protective cast on in Springstead’s football game.
As for next year, Cowan looks to improve on his weightlifting totals as he plans for a state championship run.
“I'm bringing home the (state championship) ring,” Cowan said “That’s it.”
As for Cowan's confidence, Eagles head coach Mike Garafano wasn't the least bit surprised. In fact he was confident Cowan could do it.
“He's the strongest kid I've ever coached,” Garafano said. “He's a physical specimen and he will work his butt off to get there.”
Before the afternoon session, Squartino, a senior, just sat on the bleachers listening to his headphones. With almost a cerebral trance on his face, he looked more like a spectator than someone about to compete.
The polar opposite of the big, imposing figure of Cowan, the 129-pound kid they call “Gio” was more engaged than ever going over his game plan.
“I've been good at clean-and-jerk throughout my high school career.” Squartino later explained. “I knew if I kept it close on bench I can make up ground on the clean-and-jerk.”
Squartino also explained how he studied what his competitors lifted in all their qualifiers coming in so he knew what he needed to lift.
After the bench-press section of the competition, he was sitting in 11th place with a 225 total, and instead of panicking before his clean-and-jerk, the senior simply smiled when he saw the leader at 250 and said, “that's all he's worth.”
When the time came to clean-and-jerk, Squartino successfully cleared 220, giving him a total of 445 and vaulting him into fifth place.
“The bench isn't an easy lift,” Bears head coach Mike Einspahr explained. “But the clean-and-jerk is a harder, more technical lift.”
The skipper noted how he and Squartino worked on different leg lifts and power lifts to help him prepare for this tournament, because stressing the clean-and-jerk section of the competition was a strategy that could help him medal.
While Cowan can come back next year, this was Squartino's swan song. He plans on attending the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs where he hopes to intern for the Colorado Springs National Training Center.
As for weightlifting, his new passion, Squartino was excited to continue his journey and keep lifting.
Class 2A FHSAA Finals
at Kissimmee Civic Center
1. Spruce Creek 28, 2. Lyman 12, 11. Springstead (SPG), Central (CEN) 2
Individual results (top six earn medals)
129 – 5. Giovanni Squartino (CEN) 225-220—445
238 – 5. Jesse Cowan (SPG) 355-305—660