Over the past five years, the Charlotte girls weightlifting team has established itself as the class of the area.
The Lady Tarpons have won their district for each of the last four years and their region for the past five years, routinely sending several lifters to the state meet.
Last season, they finished in third as a team at the state championships as they sent 10 individuals to the meet. They were led by Sun Co-Lifter of the Year, Lexus Sweet, who placed second in the 139-pound division.
Though Sweet and five other state qualifiers — Brisilda Bejte, Lauren Meddaugh, Natalie Jen, Erika Lane and Britney Williams — have graduated, the Lady Tarpons are poised to continue their reign under fifth year coach Matt Galley.
Returning this season are state qualifiers Kareine Dejean, Annabelle Anderson, Cheyenne Warren and Aryana Haynes.
For Galley, a former wide receiver/tight end at Florida State, the key to all the success is making sure his lifters establish proper form before worrying about anything else.
“Focusing on technique in the clean and jerk is fundamental,” he said. “As weird as it sounds, strength can only take you so far in this sport. So when we have the younger girls come in, they mimic what the older girls do for technique and that’s what sets the foundation.”
The Lady Tarpons will get a glimpse at how they stack up this year as they open the season today with the Tarpon Invitational at Charlotte High.
“We have about eight to 10 girls who can go to states this year,” Galley said. “Hopefully we can do some damage there.”
Here’s a look at other area squads.
Coach: Dave Hoffer
Key losses: Leanna Thompson, Kayla Jarrett, Kylie Kaufman and Zoeie Kaufman
Key returners: Nicholette Moss, Alicia Kowalski and Ameijha Jones
Outlook: The Lady Pirates weightlifting team won its district last year, beating out Lemon Bay as they advanced 16 lifters to regionals.
Of those 16, seven Lady Pirates went on to the state competition where Jones (5th place finish) and Moss (7th place finish) led the team.
Fortunately for Port Charlotte, both Moss and Jones will return along with Kowalski (8th place finish). However, the team has been reclassified from Class 1A into Class 2A and will now face stiffer competition — such as North Port and Venice in the district and Charlotte in the region.
“We’ll have some good competition with Venice, North Port, Southeast and Riverview,” Hoffer said. “So it’ll be more challenging. Our region is going to be really tough because we have Charlotte in our region and they’re always really good.
“But we have a good core group of girls returning and some newcomers who have been working really hard. Losing the Kaufman sisters is tough because they did well for us, but we have some girls looking to fill their shoes.”
Coach: Wayne Skelton
Key losses: Bri Sepulveda, Javi Quiles and Zoey Daniels
Key returners: Tatiana Wilburn, Katerina Wilburn, Samantha Sineath, Mikayla Fischer
Outlook: Despite losing three lifters who qualified for the state meet last season, North Port returns the Wilburn sisters and a few others who Skelton said could be able to fill the role right away.
Sineath and Fischer are already coming close to 300 pounds (bench press and clean and jerk), giving Skelton high hopes for their chances later this year. Along with those returners, the team also has brought on freshman Aubrey Jarvis, who is already approaching the 280-pound range.
The team has the added benefit of being conditioned in the offseason by assistant coach Luis Morales, who prepares the team for the season while Skelton coaches football.
“I know Port Charlotte hosts the district and the regionals, but I don’t look that far ahead,” Skelton said. “I’m dealing with a lot of new lifters and that’s why we scheduled as many of the smaller dual meets as we could. We’re anxious to see how we stack up.”
Coach: Dawn Hall
Key loss: Sara Reid
Key returners: Kayla Vaughan, Tiffany Crady and Sarah Hamsher
Outlook: After finishing as district runner-ups to Port Charlotte last season, the Lemon Bay girls weightlifting team moves into a new district along with DeSoto County.
The Lady Mantas sent four lifters to the state championships last season with three of them — Vaughan, Crady and Hamsher — returning. With all three putting in work over the offseason, they’ll look to make a push to medal at states and possibly contend for a district title.
“We have LaBelle, who year-after-year is always a really challenging team. They’ll be the biggest competitor for us in the district. LaBelle has their invite coming up in December and we have our meet in January, so we should be able to figure out by then how we look and how our new girls are progressing.”
Coach: Sascha Hyer
Key losses: None
Key returners: Arianna Kerr, Kylie Flaherty-Cohen, Jacey Tippman
Outlook: The Venice girls weightlifting team sent just one lifter to states last season in Arianna Kerr, but she made the trip count.
Kerr finished second in the 183-pound weight class, bench pressing 200 pounds and lifting 165 pounds in the clean and jerk to out-lift third place by 20 combined pounds.
Kerr won individual district and regional titles, pushing Venice to third overall in the district and sixth in the region.
Along with Kerr, Hyer said that Flaherty-Cohen and Tippman have a chance to make a mark in the area as well.
“She can definitely compete for a state championship,” Hyer said of Kerr. “She’s battling some injuries, so we have to wait and see, but given the opportunity she should be fine.
“She finished second last year and obviously that’s never your goal, you want to finish No. 1.”
Coach: Rayna Henry
Key losses: None
Key returners: Yazmeen Martinez, Iyona Wesley and M’Alee Sauvey
Outlook: One year into her first coaching opportunity, Henry is already taking the DeSoto County girls weightlifting team to new heights.
The program has grown to 26 after rostering just 13 lifters last season, and returns all three of the lifters who placed in regionals in Martinez, Wesley and Sauvey.
Though the Lady Bulldogs didn’t end up sending any lifters to the state meet, the team has some promising newcomers along with its returning regional competitors.
This time last year, Henry said she wasn’t sure what she was doing and only had a couple of weeks head start on the season. But this year, the team did conditioning over the summer and the returners have been helping the new lifters add strength leading up to the season debut next week.
“I think it was a lot of word of mouth, promoting it and the girls had a wonderful time and they were excited, so they got some other girls to come out,” Henry said of the program doubling in size.
“I have some new girls who came in the door strong and kicking butt. I have a couple of sophomores and juniors who could possibly get to regionals or states.”