Cross-training, extra-curricular involvement and family tradition are among the reasons girls from Dr. Phillips, Olympia, Ocoee and West Orange go out for their respective teams.
Some are athletes focused on another sport, doing it for cross-training.
Some want to be part of a team.
Some of the athletes who make up the rosters for girls weightlifting teams at schools such as Dr. Phillips, Olympia, Ocoee and West Orange simply enjoy getting stronger while improving their technique at the bench press and clean-and-jerk lifts. For Titans coach Mike White, you get a little of everything — but the challenge is to mold those backgrounds into a team.
“Every girl is different — I’ve got girls on the softball team, I’ve got cheerleaders,” White said at the FHSAA Class 2A District 9 Meet Jan. 14. “It varies, but I tell you what: They all work together.”
For someone such as Alexa Stahl, an up-and-coming sophomore for the Panthers who finished as a runner-up in the 110-pound weight class at the district meet, there can be a few reasons.
“My brother and my dad lift weights, so they inspired me,” said Stahl, who, along with several other Dr. Phillips, Olympia and West Orange competitors, will advance to the regional meet Jan. 21. “Also, coach Mo (Panthers coach Moushaumi Robinson) — I just love her. She’s the best.”
Indeed, the sport is one where the energy and likability of a coach is particularly important. Coaches such as Robinson, a former Olympian, and White not only have to help the girls improve and create a unity among them, but also, they have to scour their respective campuses to find prospective athletes and then encourage them to come out for the team.
Stahl, who also plans on cheerleading next year, said there seems to be a unique dynamic between girls who cheer and cross-train with girls weightlifting, even though the two sports share a season on the FHSAA calendar.
Olympia’s Ayanna Blake-Harris, for instance, is usually on the bottom of the pyramid as a cheerleader, so lifting weights seemed like a natural fit. Since giving weightlifting a shot, Blake-Harris said she has come to enjoy the atmosphere at big meets, where teammates not only cheer for one another but also encourage competitors from different schools.
“I love it; I’ve made so many new friends from different schools just being here,” said Blake-Harris, also a sophomore.
Although many of the competitors at a meet may be strengthening their bodies for another sport, Dr. Phillips senior Ketondra Cuyler — who placed first for the Panthers and is also a standout in track and field — notes that doesn’t mean there isn’t a focus and zeal for the task at hand.
“When we’re here, this is what’s on our mind,” Cuyler said. “When I’m lifting, I’m not thinking about track and field, I’m thinking about weights — I’m thinking about winning. I know (my teammates) feel the same way, too.”
Finally, for a coach such as Robinson, there is another element to growing the sport that is part of a bigger picture. As someone whose own athletic background meant being a woman with a strong physique, Robinson also wants to instill in her lifters that they can be athletic and strong while still retaining their femininity.
“A lot of times, in high school, there’s a stigma that if they’re strong, or fast or athletic, that it’s masculine or it’s not feminine,” Robinson said. “I’m just proud that I can be their coach and show them an example of a strong woman and make them proud to be strong.”
Most recently, several athletes from the four schools qualified for the state meet following the Class 2A, Region 5 meet in Lakeland Jan. 21. First place performances by West Orange's Anastasia Stults (101-pound class), Ocoee's Laniya White (129-pound class), Dr. Phillips' Jordin Ferguson (139-pound class), Ocoee's Victoria Jefferson (199-pound class) and Cuyler (Unlimited-class) guaranteed berths in the state meet Feb. 5-6 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Olympia's Blake-Harris, who placed third at 169-pounds, also qualified for state.
For someone like Cuyler, with the state meet now looming large, a longtime goal is within reach.
“I want a ring,” Cuyler said. “I want to leave DP with a ring on my finger.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].