It's no coincidence that five members of the Hernando County Girls Weightlifting Honor Roll have earned berths into Saturday's elite meet at the Kissimmee Civic Center, the 11th annual FHSAA Finals.
Four of the county's five programs will be represented on the state's biggest stage in Osceola County, featuring seven lifters who placed third or better two weeks ago at the District 5 Meet.
Hernando County's contingency features: Hernando senior Tana McDaniel at 154 pounds, Weeki Wachee senior Amber Lake at unlimited, Springstead senior Ty'Rhonza Harris at 119 and junior Madeline Genuardi at 169, and Nature Coast Technical's senior Alicia Gentz at 119, and sophomores Ashley Gentz at 129 and Annelise Rentas at 139.
The county's seven state-meet competitors tie the local record of seven lifters in 2004. Incidentally, six of the seven are first-time state qualifiers.
The two Gentz sisters, Rentas, McDaniel and Genuardi enter as local weight division leaders and reigning Hernando County champions.
The lower weights (101-139) competition will open the meet at 10:30 a.m. while the top five weights (154 through unlimited) will follow at approximately 2 p.m.
Navarre is the defending state champion while Port Orange-Spruce Creek is the defending state runner-up.
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For the second straight winter, fourth-year skipper Sharon Elliott's NCT lifters pushed a school-record three lifters to states.
But the Lady Sharks have had their problems at states. Of the previous nine NCT state qualifiers, the closest garnering a medal was Kiana Espinal placing seventh at 169 last winter.
"The girls have been working harder than ever. I'd say the workouts have been more intense," described Coach Elliott. "We've been making sure our clean-and-jerk form is perfect and not to get rattled if the head official has a long 'press' call."
As far as keys to the meet, Elliott admits the biggest thing is to be confident and convert the opening lifts in both the bench press and clean-and-jerk. After that, she says, everything will fall into place.
Coach Elliott does not want to see any freelancing.
"It's important that each of the girls sticks to their plan," insisted Elliott.
Of all the Hernando County lifters, Alicia Gentz, enters with the greatest chance of shedding the Lady Sharks' state-medal bagel. Gentz is the only Lady Shark to have previous state-meet experience. Gentz, a 2011 state performer, finished 19th in her first-ever trip to states.
This time, she enters seeded fourth (only top six earn a medal) behind a 125-150-275 total.
Navarre's Kylie Shelley is seeded first behind a solid 165-155-320 total.
Gentz's sister, Ashley, is seeded seventh overall at 129 behind a 135-155-290 total.
Ashley's weight class is paced by New Smyrna Beach's Brianna McCauley with a 200-180-380 total.
Rentas faces a steep challenge. She arrives seeded 26th with a 120-140-260 total. The 139 leader is Ocala-Lake Weir's Bejai Fray with an astonishing 190-165-355-pound qualifying total.
"Annelise's goal is to get a personal best," noted Elliott. "She's set her sights on besting her opponents from District 5."
Coach Elliott believes it's time to unlock the state's cache of medals and include NCT.
"Never earning a medal here is a huge motivator," Elliott said. "Having the girls' names called out on the platform afterward is what we're after. I can tell you as a senior, Alicia really wants to check this off her things-to-do list."
In a rather quiet season by Springstead standards, the Lady Eagles will be represented by their county-leading 20th and 21st qualifiers to states.
Harris has been operating in the shadow of NCT's Alicia Gentz.
While Gentz is seeded fourth, Harris arrives seeded 22nd behind a 125-120-245 total.
"I hope Ty'Rhonza sets the school record for the clean-and-jerk," said SHS' seventh-year mentor Mike Garofano. "She's within five pounds of doing that."
On Harris' state chances, "I hope she sets a PR (personal record), too" described Garofano. "She's one of the hardest workers in the room. I wish I had 14 girls just like her. She's a throwback to the kinds of girls we had in the room for years."
With a pardon to 106-pounder Kristina McCane, one of Springstead's most consistent performers this winter was Genuardi. The third-year lifter won six meets, placed second in districts and placed sixth at River Ridge's Disparti Invitational.
Genuardi arrives seeded 22nd overall with a 145-135-280 total. The weight class leader is Fort Walton Beach-Choctawhatchee's Caitlyn Brandenburg with a 180-180-360 total.
"Madeline has the rawest strength of anybody on this team," observed Garofano. "She's a junior and is a two-time county champ. She's one of the big pieces to our puzzle next year. We'd love to see her get her feet wet at states this year and then compete for a medal next year."
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Talking about droughts, Hernando High hasn't had anyone medal at states since Kristian Stephens placed fourth at 183 in 2008.
The first-year McDaniel won her first five meets before placing third in the pressure-packed District 5 Meet.
The multi-sport McDaniel enters the Osceola County meet seeded an uncharacteristic 17th behind a 135-155-280 qualifying total. The weight class leader is Gainesville's Jessica Kinsler with a staggering 255-185-440 total.
"At districts, all of our girls from top to bottom put up some good numbers," declared Hernando head coach Casey Ellis. "I'm upset that we couldn't bring more of the girls here."
On McDaniel's chances of placing, "Tana is a beast. She has managed her time well between lifting and playing softball," insisted Ellis. "Before I saw the seed numbers, I thought Tana could finish top 10.
"I'm being realistic when I hope she walks away with a personal best," Ellis said. "Her cleans have dramatically improved, but will it be enough to crack the top 10; who knows?
"Personally, I can't take anything away from Tana. She's the type of athlete that enjoys the spotlight; so states are a perfect stage for her talents," noted Ellis.
Lake, a two-time Hernando County champion, and Disparti Invitational placer, edged out Hernando senior Cardeja Baylor in a tiebreaker at districts for third place and a spot at states.
Interestingly, Lake hasn't surpassed Baylor's county-leading 190-145-335 total. Nor has Lake duplicated her career personal best 340-pound total from last winter.
Weeki Wachee's fourth-year mentor Mike Fye has been downplaying states - even though Lake is the school's first-ever female qualifier.
Lake enters seeded 19th overall behind a 175-155-330 total. Green Cove Springs-Clay's Sabrina Palmares is seeded first behind a 230-190-420 total.
"Honestly, I haven't spoken to her about the pressures involved with states," shared Fye. "I saw the seedings. Hopefully she just sets her own personal record. It'll be good for her confidence to set a PR."
At a Glance
What - 11th annual Girls Weightlifting FHSAA Finals.
Who - The top 30 lifters from each of the 10 weight classifications including seven from Hernando County: Hernando senior Tana McDaniel at 154 pounds, Weeki Wachee senior Amber Lake at unlimited, Springstead senior Ty'Rhonza Harris at 119 and junior Madeline Genuardi at 169, and Nature Coast Technical's senior Alicia Gentz at 119, and sophomores Ashley Gentz at 129 and Annelise Rentas at 139.
Where - Kissimmee Civic Center, 201 East Dakin Ave., Kissimmee.
When - Saturday, lower weights (101-139) will begin at 10:30 a.m. Higher weights (154 through unlimited) to follow at approximately 2 p.m.
At Stake - Top two teams receive trophies. Top six placers in each weight division receive medals.
Hernando County All-Time State Qualifiers (2004-14)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
Nature Coast Technical 12
Weeki Wachee 1
Hernando County All-Time State Placers (2004-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
Nature Coast Technical 0
Weeki Wachee 0