After finishing third at the state weightlifting meet in 2015, Sunlake High’s Brianna Anderson set her sights on winning a state title in her senior year.
That’s exactly what she did on Feb. 6, when she placed first in the 183-pound division in the Class 2A Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Girls Weightlifting Championships.
Anderson recorded a 165-pound bench press and a 220-pound clean-and-jerk for a total of 385 pounds — 20 pounds more than the second place finisher, Kendall Chavarria of Charlotte High.
“I was really emotional, because it was like I finally accomplished a goal that I had since sophomore year, and all the hard work just paid off,” Anderson said about the result.
In addition to the state title, Anderson’s 220-pound clean-and-jerk was her highest mark ever recorded.
“It took her four months to go from 190 (pounds) to 220 (pounds),” said Denise Garcia, head coach of the Sunlake weightlifting team. “I think she probably would’ve had 230 (pounds), but she did her personal best, and she went out with a bang.”
Over the past three years, Anderson made significant gains in the clean-and-jerk once she was being taught the front squat method of lifting.
She also got used to the feeling of falling down after a failed attempt.
“Most people are afraid of falling or getting hurt, so if you get used to falling, that’s really half of it,” Anderson said about being successful in the clean-and-jerk.
“It’s all about dropping under the (bar) and getting your elbows up.”
As she prepared for the state meet, Anderson lifted twice a day during the school week, and mixed in some weekend training sessions, as well. When she wasn’t lifting, Anderson could be found at basketball practice or working on homework.
“I don’t even know how I did that,” Anderson said about managing two sports simultaneously. “I just put my mind to it. I knew that since I wanted to play both sports, that’s just something I had to do.”
Garcia admired Anderson’s ability to keep her composure and juggle her busy schedule all season long.
“Even as tired as she was, she went with it,” the coach said. “Sometimes, she would come to practice, looking at me, and I’d say, ‘Take 15 minutes. Have a little snack, regroup and get your mind set.’ The hard work she put into it paid off.”
Anderson credits Garcia for her development since joining the team as a sophomore, when she could barely clean-and-jerk 100 pounds due to spotty fundamentals.
“She taught me all I know about weightlifting,” Anderson said about Garcia’s influence on her success. “She’s pushed me. She’s really caring, and she knows how to win. She knows what workouts to do, and she knows how to teach good technique.”
For Garcia, replacing Anderson’s combination of production and leadership will be a tall task, as the decorated senior leaves behind a legacy similar to former Sunlake weightlifter Alexandra Ruiz, who won a state weightlifting title in 2013 at 119 pounds.
“Brianna is one of those student-athletes that you don’t get all the time,” explained Garcia, who’s in her 10th season coaching at Sunlake. “She’s so good, and everybody loves (her). She’s well-liked and respected by everyone — teachers, administration, peers — and she’s a leader.”
Garcia hopes someone on the roster can step up and become a leader for next season.
“Every year, you have girls that will come up to the plate, just like Brianna and Alex Ruiz did,” Garcia said. “I’m sure there’ll be someone else.”
Perhaps that girl is junior Hailey Parks, who finished in fourth place in the 169-pound division at the state championships.
The three weightlifters who bested her 335-pound total—Navarre’s Olivia Brahms and Hanna Vernetti, and Lake Mary’s Courtney Coyle—are all seniors, pegging Parks as a likely favorite in 2017.
Garcia believes a state title for Parks is within reach, as long as “she’s willing to put the work in.”
“It all depends on (her) work ethic,” the weightlifting coach explained. “She needs to challenge herself every meet, set goals and not worry about whatever another girl is lifting.
“I know she can. It’s about her wanting to do it,” Garcia said.
Published February 24, 2016