Since taking its first-ever state title last year, Sunlake High School’s varsity girls weightlifting had a newfound target on their back — as hungry competition looked to dethrone the team all season long.
Some opponents went so far to say it to their face.
“We knew there were going to be people trying to take the title and trying to overcome us in general,” Sunlake senior Antoinette Farmer said. “We even had people straight up telling us, saying they were going to beat us.”
Apparently, their foes spoke too soon — as Sunlake again won the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Class 2A State Weightlifting Championships in Panama City Beach last month.
Along the way, the Sunlake team took district and regional crowns, too.
The Seahawks tallied 28 points to edge second-place finisher Navarre High School (26) and third place Winter Springs High School (24) — to become back-to-back state champions.
The program also experienced another milestone — with two weightlifters earning individual state titles in the same year: Seniors Gianna Levy (139 pounds) and Juliette Pacheco (169 pounds) took first place in their respective weight classes. Pacheco set a state record 225-pound bench press in her weight class.
All told, five of Sunlake’s seven state lifters earned points with top-six finishes in the bench press and clean-and-jerk aggregate lifts.
- Madison Guincho, junior — second place, 119-pound (180-160 — 340)
- Gianna Levy, senior — first place, 139-pound (175-180 — 355)
- Juliette Pacheco, senior—first place, 169-pound (225-185 — 410)
- Brianna Caban, senior — third place, 183-pound (200-170—370)
- Antoinette Farmer, senior—second place, 199-pound (210-190 — 400)
“We were ready for the challenge,” Farmer said of winning states again.
She said she and her teammates fed off the “good competition energy” sent their way throughout the 2019-2020 campaign.
Pacheco concurred: “We all just have a really competitive mindset, and when we hear that people are saying they’re going to beat us… it just motivates us more.”
Pacheco also credits the team’s overall success to the myriad multi-sport athletes on the team’s weightlifting roster. Many have participated in cheerleading, softball, swimming, and track and field, among other sports.
There are many “all-around athletes,” Pacheco said, noting “we all have really high goals for every aspect of our lives, and we all just put it together and do what has to be done.”
Pacheco has a lengthy background in gymnastics and cheerleading, both of which she said have helped her build upper body strength over the years.
She also holds the school’s pole vault record in track and field.
“It’s just like every sport that I’ve done has aided me in (weightlifting),” Pacheco said.
Sunlake head coach Denise Garcia acknowledged there was more pressure to win a second state title, but praised her group for maintaining a positive mindset and working hard throughout the journey.
This team embraced challenges
Garcia noted several girls balanced schoolwork, other sports and extracurriculars, and part-time jobs to get their work done in the weight room.
Her message to the team entering the year: “Nothing will work unless you do.”
It’s something the team bought into it from the get-go, she said.
“They came together again, they wanted it again,” said Garcia. “They worked even harder, if that’s even possible. They’re such good workers, their work ethics are amazing.”
She added: “It just warms my heart that they succeeded, that they did what they wanted to, and that they put their heads together themselves and they did it. That’s a big accomplishment for them, individually, as well as a team.”
Garcia has led Sunlake’s weightlifting program for more than a decade. Her specialty and strategy comes in teaching proper bench press technique, trying to maximize the potential from each of her lifters. Pacheco’s state record is a case in point, but Garcia noted she strives to get everyone to bench at least 150 pounds.
“I love the bench,” Garcia said. “They say clean-and jerk-wins everything, but bench is good, too, because it’s the total (score), and if I can get them high in the bench, it puts pressure on the other girls (from opposing teams) to do even more.”
Though Garcia will be without four state-placing seniors, she believes the program is shaped up for another strong showing next season.
The team figures to center around, among others, rising senior Madison Guincho, who placed second at the state meet in the 119-pound division. “She’s one to look out for,” Garcia said. “She’s my future.”
Guincho likewise has high expectations for what’s to come: “I think we still will be good next year, because we have a lot of good up-and-coming girls that nobody really knows about yet. I think overall, we’re still going to be one of the best.”
Elsewhere locally, Zephyrhills High School’s varsity girls weightlifting team finished third at the FHSAA Class 1A State Weightlifting Championships. Bulldogs senior Lakisia Thomas won an individual state title in the 183-pound division, posting a 190-185 — 375. She was one of four Zephyrhills lifters who earned points with top-six finishes at the meet.
Sunlake — first place (28 points)
Wiregrass Ranch — no placing (0)
Bench press-clean-and-jerk—Total (in pounds)
Alexandria Black, junior, Wiregrass Ranch: no placing (scratch)
Gabriella Schwarz, sophomore, Sunlake: 12th place (tie); 125-125 — 250
Madison Guincho, junior, Sunlake: second place; 180-160 — 340
Gianna Levy, senior, Sunlake: first place; 175-180 — 355
Gianina Rios, senior, Wiregrass Ranch: seventh place; 185-140 — 325
Juliette Pacheco, senior, Sunlake: first place; 225-185 — 410
Daniella Vance, junior, Sunlake: 13th place (tie); 145-160 — 305
Brianna Caban, senior, Sunlake: third place; 200-170 — 370
Antionette Farmer, senior, Sunlake: second place; 210-190 — 400
Zephyrhills — third place (18 points)
Bishop McLaughlin — no placing (0)
Cypress Creek — no placing (0)
Bench press-clean-and-jerk—Total (in pounds)
Andje Costa, sophomore, Cypress Creek: seventh place (tie); 95-125 — 220
Kayla Zine, senior, Zephyrhills: 18th place; 125-130 — 255
Sarah Davis, senior, Zephyrhills: third place; 185-160 — 345
Madison Aguillera, junior, Zephyrhills: fourth place; 135-185 — 320
Kayla Robbins, senior, Zephyrhills: second place (tie); 180-170 — 350
Lakisia Thomas, senior, Zephyrhills: first place; 190-185 — 375
Kyleigh Smith, senior, Zephyrhills: seventh place (tie); 160-145 — 305
Adorina Lee, senior, Bishop McLaughlin: seventh place (tie); 210-150 — 360
Diamond Cowart, junior, Zephyrhills, 15th place; 175-165 — 340
Published March 11, 2020
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