After all, unless Steilacoom disqualified in that final event, the 400-meter freestyle relay, the Sentinels were going to win state, and unless the Wildcats disqualified, they could finish no worse than second place.
And then Steilacoom DQ'd.
Just as Steilacoom's swimmers, who had appeared to win the relay, were celebrating a state title, a voice came over the PA system at the King County Aquatics Center.
"There has been a disqualification. Lane 4 has been disqualified."
Shocked Archbishop Murphy swimmers heard the news, knowing Steilacoom was the team in Lane 4, and weren't sure whether to celebrate or feel for their heartbroken opponents. According to Steilacoom coach Kathy Casey, the disqualification was for the relay team's leadoff swimmer flinching before the start gun went off.
With that announcement, as well as a very strong performance by Archbishop Murphy, which earned four individual titles, the Wildcats were state champs for the second straight year in the just the sixth year of the program's history.
"That's a horrible way to win," junior Stephen Boden muttered to no one in particular.
"I'm shocked," said junior Austin Barnard. "There's always the thought in the back of your head that this could happen, that you could win, but this is really surprising. I thought it would come down to the wire, but not like this."
Moments later, Wildcats coach Mike McCloskey hugged Boden and shouted, "We did it." McCloskey paused, then added, "Ten minutes ago I didn't think we did."
Yet as shocking as that finish was, it would be unfair to the Wildcats to say they were handed a title. Yes, Steilacoom's unfortunate disqualification opened the door for an unlikely outcome, but Archbishop Murphy also did plenty of work to be in position to take advantage, getting two individual titles from Boden, first and second-place finishes from Barnard, a diving title from Elliott Forde and two strong relay swims.
"It's really a mixed feeling, to be honest," McCloskey said. "I've been on the other side of these things, and you have to do what you can, and if something happens, you have to be ready to take advantage of it. You earned it, nobody gets on that top podium without earning it, but my heart goes out to those Steilacoom kids. They really had a complete team."
The Wildcats finished with 185 points, Anacortes was second with 178, and Steilacoom and Lindbergh tied for third with 172. Had the Sentinels simply finished that relay, they would have earned enough points to clinch the title regardless of what Murphy or any other team did.
That wild finish turned what was already going to be an emotional and busy day for McCloskey into a downright crazy one. McCloskey, who started the Archbishop Murphy program six years ago, is coaching both the Wildcats and Bishop Blanchet High School this year, meaning his work day continued into the 3A meet Saturday night. The 2A meet was his last as Murphy's coach, as McCloskey will coach only at Blanchet next year.
"Our job is to do what we can and let the chips fall where they may, so we'll certainly take it," McCloskey said. "It's a little emotional right now… I'll miss these kids, that's all I know. They are some good people to work with."
Because McCloskey, who led Archbishop Murphy to a second-place finish two years ago, and the program's first title last year, was coaching his last meet for the Wildcats, his swimmers were thrilled to get him another championship, even if it came in as strange of fashion as any of them could have imagined.
"I told the guys before this last relay, 'This is for Mike, we've got to make him proud on this last relay,'" Barnard said.
Leading the way for Archbishop Murphy's unexpected title was Boden, who was a two-event winner for the second year in a row, repeating in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle. Boden's time of 1:52.01 in the IM set a new 2A meet record, while his time of 4:34.81 in the 500 was more than 22 seconds better than the second-place finisher, though still not as fast as he was hoping for.
Barnard also had a big day for the Wildcats, winning the 200-yard free in 1:44.68, the fourth-best 2A time in state history, and finishing second in the 100-yard butterfly. The win in the 200-free gave Barnard his first individual state title after a number of close calls at his first two state meets. Barnard finished second in the 500-free as a freshman to his older brother, Alec, and finished fifth in the 200-free. Last year Bernard finished second in both the 200 and 500-free.
"That felt good to get my own individual win, finally," Barnard said. "To get that first one felt really good."
Were it not for the ending of the meet, the diving competition might have provided the day's best drama, with the top five competitors entering the finals separated by fewer than 20 points after Friday's semifinals. Archbishop Murphy junior Elliott Forde narrowly edged out Sumner's David Kakuk by a margin of 372.0-371.85.
"It's crazy," said Forde, who finished second at state last year. "Going into finals, we were all nervous, because the top five were within 20 points of each other, so we all knew it was anyone's game."
But despite the close competition, Forde said the key to his victory was ignoring what his rivals were doing and focusing on his own dives.
"I like to just close everyone else out and focus on what I'm doing," he said. "It doesn't matter what the person in front of me is doing, it doesn't matter what the person behind me is doing, I just zone in and do what I know how to do."
Junior Rory Krueger added to Murphy's point total in diving, finishing seventh with a score of 316.25.
Also contributing to the winning point total was freshman Anthony Mikhail, who finished seventh in the 500-free after knocking more than 16 seconds off his best time prior to Friday's prelims. Mikhail and Bryce Lewis-Smith also combined with Boden and Barnard to take second place in that final relay and fourth in the 200-medly relay.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At King County Aquatic Center
Top 8 advance to finals
200 medley relay—1. Steilacoom 1:39.79, 4. Archbishop Murphy (Austin Barnard, Stephen Boden, Anthony Mikhail, Bryce Lewis-Smith) 1:41.81; 200 freestyle—1. Austin Barnard (Archbishop Murphy) 1:44.68; 200 individual medley—1. Stephen Boden (Archbishop Murphy) 1:52.01; 50 freestyle—1. Andrew Franco-Munoz (Lindbergh) 21.17; Diving—1. Elliot Forde (Archbishop Murphy) 372.00, 7. Rory Krueger (Archbishop Murphy) 316.25; 100 butterfly—1. Benjamin Scott (Steilacoom) 50.34, 2. Barnard (Archbishop Murphy) 52.28; 100 freestyle—1. Franco-Munoz (Lindbergh) 46.60; 500 freestyle—1. Boden (Archbishop Murphy) 4:34.81, 7. Anthony Mikhail 5:04.21; 200 freestyle relay—1. Lake Washington 1:30.80; 100 backstroke—1. Scott (Steilacoom) 51.19; 100 breaststroke—1. James Scott (Steilacoom) 59.56; 400 freestyle relay—1. Anacortes 3:21.56, 2. Archbishop Murphy (Stephen Boden, Bryce Lewis-Smith, Anthony Mikhail, Eric Olsen) 3:21.56.
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