LIVE OAK — One week after repeating as district champions, the Suwannee High girls weightlifting team powered its way to a second straight region title.
The Bulldogs captured the Region 2-1A championship Saturday and qualified nine girls for the state meet in the process. Branford, which placed eighth out of 18 teams in the regional tournament, placed two girls in the state meet — Feb. 14-15 at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach — the Buccaneers’ first state qualifiers in the sport.
“We had a really good group, not just last year but also two years ago,” Suwannee coach Brittney Shearer said. “They kind of laid the foundation. That’s the year we got runner-ups in the district and we thought we had won the Super Bowl.
“Now to go from that to last year, district champ and regional champ, and doing that again this year, this team is very special.”
Branford coach Misty Ward added: “I couldn’t be more proud of the girls for being able to advance on to the state level. They stepped up their game this season and I’m so proud of them.”
Leading the Bulldogs’ charge through the regional tournament were individual class champions Aislinn Henry (101 pounds), Matti Marsee (110), Tyra Kalandyk (139) and McKay Graham (169).
Henry, who lifted a total of 225 pounds between the bench press and the clean and jerk, and Marsee, who totaled 290 pounds, are both repeat regional champions and Kalandyk, who lifted 320 pounds, also competed at the state tournament last year. Graham totaled 285 pounds in the regional meet.
Joining those four champions from Suwannee at the state meet will be Macy Bowers, who was runner-up at 101 pounds with a lift of 215 pounds, Sophia Baldwin, who finished second at 119 pounds by lifting 265, Amaya Johnson, who placed second in the 129-pound class with a total lift of 295 pounds, Shelby Blackmon, who lifted 310 pounds to finish second at 183 pounds and Carson Frier, who lifted 295 pounds to finish third in the 154-pound class.
“It’s been special,” Shearer said, noting Suwannee also had three girls just miss qualifying for the state meet by one place in the at-large rankings. “There’s just been something different about this year. It’s hard to put your finger on it. But when you do things the right way and I tell them all the time, just trusting in the process. They are understanding that it’s a day by day thing, it doesn’t just happen overnight.”
Also placing for Suwannee in the regional were Sabrina Mesa, fifth at 110 pounds; Ali McMillan, sixth at 119; Haleigh Miller, fourth at 129; Reina Harry, fourth at 139; Emma Brown, sixth at 154; Lilly Lamb, sixth at 169; Maddie Carte, fourth at 183; Jaclyn Gardner, fifth at 199; and Samantha Barber, second in the unlimited class.
Branford, in just its second year competing in girls weightlifting, had two lifters place in the regionals and both advanced to the state meet.
Evie Pitts finished second in the 139-pound class, lifting 295 pounds total, which included a personal-record 155 pound lift in the clean and jerk. Natalie Veal placed fourth at 110 pounds with a total lift of 220 pounds.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” said Ward, who noted that last year Branford had six lifters place in the regional tournament but not have the weights to qualify for state. “The district and the region we are in this year is definitely a lot more competitive than where we were last year, so I’m really impressed with the girls’ ability to step up their game.
“We have a lot of motivated girls and it was a great season. I’m really proud of them and I look forward to the future of the program because it’s going to be pretty awesome.”