Steber finishes 26th in state, breaks own school record

LEWISBURG – You can’t do better than the best you’ve ever done.

That was the story for Warren Area High School senior Bennett Steber at the PIAA Class AAA Swimming Championships (piaa.org) at Bucknell University.

Already a dream season, it came to an end on Thursday morning when Steber finished 26th out of 32 state qualifiers in the 100-yard breaststroke. But that’s not looking close enough at his season.

He’s actually accomplished everything he has set out to accomplish.

“The record was actually the only thing that I wrote down as a goal at the beginning of the season,” said Steber of the 100-yard breast.

On Feb. 13, Steber smashed a school record in the 100-meter breaststroke that has stood since 1989. Steber’s time of 1:09.60 bested his previous best of 1:12.60, and broke Curt Jablonowski’s 1989 record of 1:11.91.

Less than a week later, he was part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team that broke a record from 2006. He was already part of last season’s school-record-breaking 200-meter medley relay team.

For Steber to advance to states in the 100-yard breast, he finished third at the District 10 Class AAA Championships at Penn State Behrend with another school record, 1:00.08. Since he wasn’t a District 10 champion, he qualified among the top 32 times in the state.

But he still wasn’t finished. He had one more goal: to be the first Dragon to swim the 100-yard breaststroke in under a minute.

So, if you look closer at Steber’s 26th-place finish at states, you find that he actually beat five swimmers seeded ahead of him (Steber was seeded 31st), and he broke his own school record by finishing in 59.87 seconds. Steber’s time of 59.87 seconds would have been third among the Class AA seed times (Class AA swims the event on Friday).

“As exciting as it is to see Warren’s team continue to grow, I do hope my record will hold for a few years, along with my teammates’ records,” said Steber. “It’s been a few years since any of those records were touched, so it was awesomeness for us to change the face of that board.

“My goal was still to break that minute mark,” he said. “It was amazing to accomplish that. Place-wise, I was really just aiming to move up a few places, and I pulled that off as well. It was the most smooth race I’ve ever swam. I never had to worry about getting tired, just technique.”

Given that he went over and over his starts and turns all season, he was probably in good shape.

Warren head coach Jeff Walters said Steber seemed confident and had two strong practice swims at Bucknell University leading up to the event. Steber also had Dragon teammates Cameron Daniels and Logan Gearhart with him in Lewisburg for support.

“Intimidated isn’t the word to describe it, I was more excited than anything,” said Steber. “I was beyond satisfied with my season, and anything else I accomplished was really just the icing on the cake.”

The top 16 advanced to the final, which was held Thursday night, with the top eight earning medals. Thomas McCormick, of WC Henderson, won the gold in 54.92 seconds, dropping over a second from his prelims time of 56.10.

“It felt awesome to be swimming against such an equal group, tall and short, younger and older, everyone in the event had put the work in and was fighting to drop that small amount of time that made the difference between podium and last,” said Steber. “Plus, I was surrounded by all of my buddies from D10 who also qualified.”

Walter said Steber, “represented his team, school, and family very well – a great way to end his high school career.”