This year's 11th annual state finals are set for Feb. 8, again at the cozy Kissimmee Civic Center.
To reach the elite Osceola County-based event, local lifters will compete against as many as 22 teams along five platforms in Tuesday afternoon's District 5 Meet at River Ridge Middle/High's enormous gymnasium beginning at 4 p.m.
Four counties are expected to be represented including: Pasco County's Pasco, Anclote, Hudson, Fivay, Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Gulf, Mitchell, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills; Hernando County's Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Springstead and Weeki Wachee; Citrus County's Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto; and Sumter County's South Sumter.
Since 2004, Hernando County has been represented at the state level by 52 lifters from Springstead (19), Hernando (17), Nature Coast (nine) and Central (seven). Weeki Wachee has never been represented at states.
To reach the Kissimmee Civic Center, Tuesday's lifters must finish among the top three in each of the 10 weight classes.
The top six placers will earn team points.
Host River Ridge is the defending district champion. Citrus is the defending district runner-up.
Hernando County's best finisher last season was fifth-place NCT.
Veteran River Ridge mentor Mike DeGennaro believes his lifters are battle-tested.
"Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to see either Nature Coast or Citrus win this," predicted Coach DeGennaro. "Do I think we have a shot? Sure. But both of those teams can easily compete for the title."
Hernando, which placed second in last week's county meet, is expecting to bring eight lifters to District 5 including: Nikki Patrick at 101, Sierra Wells at 119, Ashlee Cavanaugh at 129, Tana McDaniel at 154, Heather Rawson at 169, Taylor Day at 183, Taylor Milligan at 199 and Cardeja Baylor at unlimited.
Victoria Alderman, who graduated, was the Lady Leopards' best finisher in this meet last year placing runner-up at 169.
"It'll be a great meet on Tuesday," forecasted Hernando's fourth-year mentor Casey Ellis. "I know the girls are looking forward to it."
Ellis believes in the stout field that McDaniel, Milligan and Baylor have the best shots at advancing to states.
"Tuesday will be new to Tana (McDaniel), but she'll be in her element in front of that big crowd," noted Ellis. "Both Taylor (Day) and Cardeja know what's expected of them; they're legit lifters.
"I've never taken more than one girl to states before," noted Ellis. "I'm excited that we could possibly take two or more."
On the district race, "If I had to guess, I'd say River Ridge, Citrus, Nature Coast and Sunlake in the top four," predicted Ellis.
Similar to River Ridge, Nature Coast enters with no returning district champs, but retains plenty of experience at this level.
Though fourth-year skipper Sharon Elliott did not return a call for this story, the Lady Sharks arrive fresh from a first-ever Hernando County Championship Meet repeat.
Last winter, 2011 state qualifier and three-time county champ Alicia Gentz surprising scratched out.
Her sister, Ashley Gentz, placed a distant sixth at 110.
Annelise Rentas lost a tie-breaker to finish fourth at 129 behind teammate Jasmyn Davila.
Brittney Traudt was ninth at 154 while Rachel Crayton was third at 183.
Last week at Central, both Gentz sisters, Rentas and Crayton were crowned county champions.
Springstead's seventh-year mentor Mike Garofano saw his lifters slip to third in last week's Hernando County Meet - a personal low.
But SHS left with three gold medal-efforts by sophomore Kristina McCane at 101, and juniors Isabella Sorresso at 110 and Madeline Genuardi at 169.
Genuardi was fourth in this meet last winter while McCane was fifth.
Weeki Wachee senior Amber Lake repeated as county champion at unlimited last week.
Last year, Lake placed fifth in the District 5 Meet.
At a Glance
What - District 5 Girls Weightlifting Meet.
Who - Expecting up to 22 schools to be represented including: Pasco County's Pasco, Anclote, Hudson, Fivay, Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Gulf, Mitchell, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills; Hernando County's Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Springstead and Weeki Wachee; Citrus County's Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto; and Sumter County's South Sumter.
Where - River Ridge Middle/High School gymnasium, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey.
When - Tuesday. Weigh-ins from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Meet starts at 4 p.m. along five platforms.
At Stake - Top six individuals score team points while the top three individuals in each of the 10 weight classes receives a ribbon and automatically advances to Feb. 8's 11th annual FHSAA Finals at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Team trophies awarded for first and second place.
All-Time State Qualifiers (2004-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
Nature Coast Technical 9
Weeki Wachee 0