Buoyed by the performance of senior Brianna Anderson, the Sunlake Seahawks girls wrestling team has been on a tear of late.
The Seahawks most recently placed first (out of six teams) in the Eastside Girls Weightlifting Tournament at Zephyrhills High School on Dec. 16.
Competing in the 183-pound weight class, Anderson recorded a 160-pound bench press, and maxed out a 195-pound clean-and-jerk for a 355 total, a tournament best.
While Anderson didn’t reach her goal of a 225-pound clean-and-jerk, she still felt comfortable with her performance.
“I was pretty confident, I guess,” she said about her results. “I knew if I (completed) all of my benches, and my first clean-and-jerk, I was going to get first (place).”
A relative newcomer to the sport, Anderson showed an interest in weightlifting as a high school sophomore, hoping to become more physically active to boost her athleticism for basketball and track.
She proved to be a natural in her first year competing, reaching the 2013-2014 Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Girls Weightlifting Finals, placing 19th overall in the 199-pound weight class.
As a junior last year, Anderson became more focused on improving her weightlifting totals. She altered her diet and spent more time on proper weightlifting technique, utilizing the expertise of Sunlake High head coach Denise Garcia.
The extra dedication paved the way for Anderson to drop to a lower weight class (183) and enhance her strength enough to place third in the 2014-2015 finals.
“The most improvement I would have to say is clean-and-jerk as far as my technique and going up in my max,” Anderson said. “My favorite is the clean-and-jerk, so for the bench (press) I just try my hardest. My lower body is stronger than my upper body.”
Coach Garcia commended Anderson’s work ethic and believes she has a great chance to win a state title in February.
“I’m hoping that she continues to go up and get that gap, because there’s other girls that are great up there, but with her passion and her wanting it, I know she’ll be on top.”
For Anderson and her Sunlake High teammates, the overall goal is to perform better at the FHSAA State Finals on Feb. 5 in Kissimmee, where the group finished 12th last year.
Before they can look ahead to the state championships, they must first compete in a district qualifier on Jan. 13 at Mitchell High School in New Port Richey. The district meet will determine qualifiers for the 2016 Girls Weightlifting regional meet on Jan. 20 at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, which then determines who qualifies for the state finals.
Garcia believes this year’s group, which features 22 members, is unique because of their overall “commitment and dedication.” She also noted the team’s camaraderie.
“They listen, and they’re coachable,” said Garcia, who’s been coaching girl’s weightlifting at Sunlake High for 10 years. “They’re always working on their personal bests, and there’s no drama.
“They’re all great kids.”
Coaching weightlifting is sometimes a logistical challenge for Garcia, who was to divvy up one-on-one coaching among 22 pupils.
Garcia is typically forced to organize her practice schedule around other sports the girls compete in, such as cheerleading and basketball. Practices are usually held for two hours every weekday (and sometimes weekends), with a focus on strengthening different muscle groups.
For girls that are novices to competitive weightlifting, Coach Garcia said the key is to focus on proper technique and not necessarily how much weight is being lifted.
“It’s always about technique first,” Garcia said. Don’t worry about what the other person is doing. If 55 (pounds) is all you can do, it better be the best 55 (pounds) technically, because if not, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
While Coach Garcia’s team isn’t as large as others she’s had in the past, she’s optimistic about the sport’s future growth, which she attributes in part to the popularity of CrossFit.
“The girls are getting more exposed to it,” she explained. “CrossFit is big, so it’s (transitioning girls) into weightlifting. It’s not just a boy’s sport. The girls are coming in and doing it well.”
Anderson, who plans to join the U.S. Naval Academy after she graduates high school, credits Coach Garcia for her marked improvement over the past three seasons.
“She got me when I couldn’t even clean-and-jerk 100 pounds,” she said. “And now, I can do 200.”
Published January 6, 2016