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Heck dominates; Gunn battles Stevens

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 12/14/22

OAKLEAF - In what Oakleaf High girls weightlifting coach Benjamin White called “a battle against the best”, White’s Oakleaf High girls weightlifting team turned a simple dual meet between his …

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Heck dominates; Gunn battles Stevens


OAKLEAF - In what Oakleaf High girls weightlifting coach Benjamin White called “a battle against the best”, White’s Oakleaf High girls weightlifting team turned a simple dual meet between his Lady Knights and the Lady Blue Devils of Clay High, the defending champions in Tradition and Olympic Snatch, into a no-holds barred, standing room only lift-fest at Oakleaf High School.

“They were fired up for sure,” said White. “Anytime you bring in the caliber of a program like Clay into your weightroom is going to bring extra energy.”

White manipulated his lifters mentally to just stay within their boundaries and get clean lifts in each weight division.

“We stressed the importance of getting that first lift in in all three disciplines,” said White. “Clay is built for big meets because they have super strong girls in multiple classes. Our depth and consistency was going to be the measure of their overwhelming power.”

Note: Different than last year’s format, the three disciplines of competitive weightlifting; Clean and Jerk, Bench Press and Olympic Snatch with the Olympic Snatch scored by itself. In 2022, the Olympic Snatch total is now added to both the clean and jerk and bench press to determine totals.

White’s premonition proved prophetic, but his strategy did have its monumental moments as in the crushing totals offered by Clay state champion Emma Heck, a sophomore, who crushed her weight class by nearly 100 pounds in all three disciplines.

“Coach White has done a great job with his program at Oakleaf,” said Cla coach Rodney Keller. “It is good for us to get out of our comfort zone and compete against one of the best programs in our area.”

In the Unlimited division, Clay had state champion Kyleigh LaFary and teammate Kenya Tinajero also winning by near 100 pounds with both swiftly lifting away from Oakleaf’s challenges.

“The quality of the programs right here in Clay County is incredible,” said Clay coach Rodney Keller. “All of our local meets have been really tight.”

Another welcomed stronghold for Clay was AnnaLee Harbison, who was destined last year to provide big numbers for Clay coach Rodney Keller, but then suffered a knee injury that halted her season.

Harbison, also a top flag football athlete for Clay, recovered, rehabbed and returned to lifting action with a fervor with wins in the 183 weight division to bolster the Blue Devil challenge.

“For us, it’s depth,” said White. “We are built for duals and tri meets simply because we have two ro three above

average lifters in each class and that gives us points. A few girls; Ivy Gunn, Caylin Volpe, Lily Auble, Amari Grant and Naya Russell go big and win their classes and all of a sudden, we are close.”

As White nervously tabulated on his handheld laptop while Clay coach Keller was crunching numbers in his head, the meet’s finale was orchestrated by two of both teams key veterans in the 154 pound division; Ivy Gunn, third at state 3A last year at 169, and Janiyah Stevens, state 2A champion at 154.

With Oakleaf

In the end, Gunn took the weight class in both disciplines with a personal best Clean and Jerk the difference; 350-335 in the Olympic class and 385-380 in the Regular class as Oakleaf won both ends of the meet; 49-44 and 48-42.

“We may start having all meets in the gym,” said White. “The place is packed every meet. We said all week, “to be the best you gotta beat the best” and we pulled it out. A major step for the program.”

For Keller, the outcome may be a positive outcome for his defense of titles later in the season.

“For us, its’ about getting back in the room and keep our heads down in preparation for the big meet at Suwannee and our big picture goals in January and beyond.”

Next up is the annual Suwannee Christmas Invitational in Live Oak, a top tier event, Olympic Snatch team title won by Clay last year (third in tradition, Oakleaf seventh, Middleburg 10th), featuring numerous state-ranked lifters from around Florida.