The Zephyrhills High School girls weightlifting team can now lay claim as one of the top teams in the state.
Buoyed by the performances of two upperclassmen and an underclassman, the Bulldogs sprung into a tie for seventh place (out of 35 schools) at the FHSAA Class 1A girls weightlifting finals at Belleview High School on Feb. 3.
“I did not ever expect to be a top-10 team,” said Joe Rinaldo, in his ninth year at Zephyrhills. “That was surprising.”
At the same token, the 2016-2017 team is one of the best he’s ever had.
“I would take this team against any of those teams I’ve ever had. They were that good,” he said.
Three girls did the heavy lifting for the Bulldogs: senior Sara First (101- pound class), junior Jessica Guadarrama (183) and sophomore Abby Shaffer (unlimited).
In the 183-pound class, Guadarrama finished state runner-up with a 175-pound bench press and 175-pound clean-and-jerk for a 350-pound total. Those numbers were a sizable jump from her sophomore year at states, when she put together a 305-pound total (140-pound bench, 165-pound clean-and-jerk).
She credits her year-round training.
“I worked for what I got,” Guadarrama said, assuredly. “I had a lot of offseason time to practice.”
Her mindset during the state finals helped, too.
“When I went into the meet, I was focused on myself. I didn’t pay attention to the other (competitors) because that would mess my focus,” she explained. “I came here to do my own numbers and what I know I can do, and whatever place I can get with those numbers.”
In the unlimited class, Shaffer placed fourth (185-205—390). Meantime, First placed sixth (120-110—230) in the 101-pound class.
“At first, you look at it, and it’s like nerve-wracking because it’s like the best in the state get there,” Shaffer said. “But once you get into it, you realize it’s just like a normal meet — just more schools and more on the line a little bit.”
Rinaldo said he expected top-tier finishes for both Guadarrama and Shaffer. Yet, it was his senior—a first-time lifter— that surprised him the most.
“She was in a tough spot going into it, and between her lifting and other people failing ahead of her, she was able to move up and get on the medal stand,” Rinaldo said, of First.
“It was so amazing to see her journey from the start to the ending,” Guadarrama said. “I did not expect her to go to states; it was awesome.”
The team’s core development began last summer, when Rinaldo signed up several lifters to compete in a USA Weightlifting club affiliated with Fortitude Fitness in Trinity.
It went a long way toward improving lifting technique, especially for Guadarrama and Shaffer.
“We made a lot of changes in the clean-and-jerk technique,” Rinaldo said. “Learning to snatch helped immensely with their cleans. …It was hard at first for them, but once they picked it up and learned how to use it, it made their cleans that much better.”
In essence, small changes led to big increases, he said.
“The majority of weightlifting,” Guadarrama said, “is more of technique than how much muscle you have. It’s 10 percent physical, and the rest is mental…””
Meanwhile, excitement is already building for the 2017-2018 season.
Credit the youth movement.
“There’s a lot of good girls that didn’t make it to states that are still young that are coming back,” Rinaldo said. “I’m only losing four seniors.”
Among those up-and-coming lifters are sophomore Savannah Sutton (110 pounds) and juniors Halee Karppe (129) and Chase Booker (139).
“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more (state qualifiers) next year,” Guadarrama said. “As a team, I would like to see us go higher, like fifth place.”
“I think we could maybe get better,” Shaffer said. “Some of the freshman this year — they have potential.”
Some first-timers, too, could one day make a splash.
“The popularity of our team—probably the past few weeks—has grown,” Rinaldo said. “I’ve got people coming up to me in the hallways saying, ‘Hey, when do we start back up again? I’ve got girls that want to come out.’ I don’t know how good they are, but what we’re doing is speaking volumes right now.”
Other state results from area weightlifters
Sara First (Zephyrhills High): sixth place; 120-110—230
Eliahnis Lewis (Pasco High): 140-125—265
Jessica Guadarrama (Zephyrhills High): second place; 175-175—350
Abby Shaffer (Zephyrhills High); fourth place; 185-205—390
Shelby Lewis (Sunlake High) 115-120—235
Zeena Zayed (Freedom High) third place; 130-135—265
Caroline Winstead (Sunlake High); 140-0—140
Tricia Clifton (Wiregrass Ranch High): 145-135—280
Josie Blew (Freedom High): 140-180—320
Alyssa Kremer (Land O’ Lakes High): 165-140—305
Veronica Salazar (Land O’ Lakes High): 160-145—305
Hailey Parks (Sunlake High): sixth place; 170-170—340
Micaiah Long (Sunlake High): third place; 215-185—400
Published February 15, 2017