Stephens, Maier, Joseph push Eagles to 3A title

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 4/28/21

ST. CLOUD - An emotional finish to a topsy turvy season was the reward for persistence for Fleming Island High weightlifter Will Stephens who powered to a Class 3A title at 154 pounds then watched …

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Stephens, Maier, Joseph push Eagles to 3A title


ST. CLOUD - An emotional finish to a topsy turvy season was the reward for persistence for Fleming Island High weightlifter Will Stephens who powered to a Class 3A title at 154 pounds then watched his upper weight teammates; Alex Maier and Rickey Joseph, add dramatic finishes to second place to give Fleming Island it’s first state team weightlifting title Saturday at St. Cloud High School.

Fleming Island pulled away in the second session; the upper weight divisions, to score 24 team points for the win with University High second at 18 and perennial contender Spruce Creek third at 16.

“We figured on paper we could get 27 points if everyone did their job,” said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs. “We had a few slips, but everything went almost perfect to the plan. The team executed the plan almost perfectly. Will winning the title and Alex and Rickey getting second were our big players.”

Maier, Joseph and Tim Thomas; the 238, Unlimited and 219 for Springs, figured on being in the mix at the end.

“We knew that the other teams had great lifters in the lower weights and that we would need to be the edge for the team,” said Maier, who will play football at Furman University next year after a stellar senior season for Springs. “The bonus was guys like Musthafa, Nolley and Will winning the title. Those were key points to make the second session to our advantage.”

For Stephens, a senior weightlifter, consistency was the winning formula as his two bests for the meet were 275 in both the bench press and the clean and jerk.

“Will had his mind right, his body right and he just locked in,” said Springs. “He went in thinking like a champion.”

Stephens had to chase the leaders after the bench press with three lifters opening with higher lift totals than Stephens; a 305 by Kevin Vannice of Tate, and 275s from two other lifters with Stephens opening at 260. Stephens would eventually finish his three lifts with a 275 best that had him sitting in fourth place with two lifters just five pounds off his mark.

“We went big on the first lift at clean and jerk to set the tone,” said Stephens, also a wide receiver for the Fleming Island High football team. “We were confident of the 275 that it would shake things up and it did.”

In the clean and jerk, Stephens opened at 275 to shake the 154 lineup and the move prevailed as his 275 stuck as the top lift for the discipline. Stephens’ opening salvo stunned the field; especially Vannice who could only manage 215 to give Stephens the title by just five pounds.

“Will put the pressure on the field and made the other guys change their strategy I think,” said Springs. “That’s his mentality.”

Springs also got bonus points in the 154 division with Nicolas Bethea finishing sixth for two point getters in the one division.

“That plus Musthafa Marshall fourth at 169 gave us a big jump before the session break,” said Springs. “We did not score points in the next two weights to set up Timmy Thomas, Alex Maier and Rickey Joseph to bring home the trophy. All three of them had a shot to win their division title.”

Stephens’ win combined with Justin Nolley’s fourth place finish at 129 gave Fleming Island some hope for at least a medal position for the team as the event surged toward the break. In 119, Austin Allred added a ninth place finish though not for points, was momentum.

“To get guys battling into the top 10 spread into whole team,” said Stephens. “As a team, we were coming together as one to get the job done.”

In the 169 weight session, just before the break to the upper weight session, Marshall got the ball rolling with a 305 opener on the bench followed by increases to 325 and a tie with eventual champion Sean Acevedo of Lakeland for the top lifter heading to clean and jerk.

Marshall got to 225, but missed at 235 as Acevedo finished at 270 and the title. Lakeland finished with a first and third in the division and surged to the top of the team scoreboard.

In the second session, Fleming Island struggled to stay close to the top three teams with no points coming from 183 and 199 with just Jhoel Robinson in 183 lifting but finishing out of the top 10.

“We expected that it would come down to our big guys,” said Springs, head coach for 14 of his 18 years at Fleming Island. “Timmy maybe should have placed higher, but Marshall’s finish kind of balanced the score.”

At 219, Timothy Thomas snagged some team points with his eighth place finish, but Fleming Island still needed a bunch more to steal the title.

Alex Maier, in 238, and Rickey Joseph, in Unlimited, would surface as the heroes for Springs with second place finishes from both whisking the team lead to Fleming Island.

“After Timmy finished eighth, Rickey and I knew we had some work to do,” said Maier. “We lifted at the same time and the gym was going nuts around us. For me, I feel my best is when the pressure is on. It was a little distracting, but we were able to shut it out and do our job.”

Maier, who opened at 320 and finished at 335 on the bench press was in the top five heading to clean and jerk with Damon Wilson of Venice hitting 370 to to lead the field and put Maier in a precarious position to score points.

Maier stormed the field on his first clean and jerk at 300 then pushed to 315 to gain some points back on the bench press leaders. Jordan Moon of Navarre, who benched 340 to get five pounds on Maier, would get to 315 on the clean and jerk to give Maier one shot at 320 and a tie, but Maier missed the attempt to finish in second place. Daniel Libow of Boca Raton had the best bench at 385, but got just 265 and a miss at 275 in the clean and jerk to give Maier a window to go top three; eventually second.

“When Alex hit his second clean and jerk, he was celebrating big, but the other guy hit his and took the lead which surprised us and put Alex in second,” said Springs. “Alex got back to lift but was huffing and puffing and could not get the lift. He kind of lost focus, but still lifted great.”

Maier admitted feeling shocked he missed the lift, but then got emotional about the finish.

“I could not believe I missed it and that was a shock at first, then I got real emotional about finishing as one of the best lifters in the state,” said Maier. “I never imagined competing at this level in weightlifting, but I just worked hard.”

For Joseph, who was steadily improving his totals as the season progressed, the Unlimited was won by a massive 700 pound total from Yosbany

Gonzales of Seminole who crushed the bench with a 430 finish.

“Him and I kind of feed off each other and do some high fives and stuff to keep our heads straight,” said Maier. “I know he’s got my back and he knows I got his.”

Joseph, with a 360 bench, was 70 pounds off the lead of Gonzalez but maintained his technique to take 35 pounds back from Gonzalez with a 305-270 best lift in the clean and jerk. Joseph’s 305 was second best clean and jerk of the day with Ocoee’s Jordan Phillips tops at 315. Phillips, with just a 320 bench, would finish sixth.

For Oakleaf, Paul McGee top finisher at seventh in 129 with a 400 pound total.


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