February 27, 2010 11:01:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Four years ago, Starkville High School''s girls powerlifiting team had just a few members.
But just like any upstart program, time and results can build a program toward winning championships.
The Lady Jackets are a perfect example of what patience and persistence can do in a short span of time.
Starkville coach Leonardo Thompson has led the program since its inception and has seen the year-to-year growth as more girls become interested in staying fit and having an outlet for competition.
Just over the last year, the Lady Jackets have gone from having no North State qualifiers last year to sending five this season.
"I think the girls are really just looking for something to do and they found it''s an opportunity to tone up and work out," Thompson said. "When I started coaching the team four years ago, there were only three girls lifting. But each year, we''ve grown and the girls get stronger and see the results. We have 18 girls on the team this year and it''s great opportunity for the girls to compete."
Heading into the North State Meet at Ridgeland High School, Thompson said he expects the most challenge to come from DeSoto Central, which edged Starkville at the regional meet.
However, Starkville was without two lifters and Thompson believes his squad is strong enough to power past DeSoto Central and Clinton High School for the North State title.
"Some of my girls who took third (at regionals) should have gotten second, getting beat by 5 pounds," Thompson said. "They work really hard in the weight room and it''s starting to pay off, so I feel good about where are numbers are."
Indeed, Starkville High''s max numbers are impressive for a team that''s made up of first- and second-year lifters.
Latifah Booker, who competes in the 132-pound weight class, took first in the region and won her class at the Pearl High School meet earlier this year. She has a 275-pound squat max, while Jondia Weatherspoon (148-pound weight class) has hit 330 on the squat and has a 340-pound deadlift.
Booker, a senior, said the key to the team''s success this season has been the encouragement from all 18 lifters. Coupled with strength gains lifters have enjoyed this season, she believes Starkville has the best shot for a North State crown.
"If not us then who?" she said. "The team feels like that, too, and I think that''s the mindset you have to have. We''re confident because we see each other getting better. We just have to do it together and keep encouraging each other every time someone is lifting."
Aside from believing they should already have a regional title under their belts, the Lady Jackets'' confidence is high despite the third-place finish in Oxford and no regular season finishes higher than third (Pearl) and fourth at Velma Jackson. Both finishes were in eight-team fields.
Starkville could notch crucial points through Latedra Burkhalter (220-plus), who won her class at regionals and has a 385-pound deadlift, 330 squat and 145 bench.
Burkhalter admits she''s come a long way since joining the team this season and didn''t know what to expect of her first year. Now, as one of Starkville''s two region winners, she''ll be counted on to help break home a title.
"It helps that we''re having fun, because I thought I would be a weakling and didn''t think I''d be able to lift," Burkhalter said. "Just getting to this point is exciting, but I don''t think there''s any pressure on anyone. I mean, I was nervous my first lift (at regionals) and had butterflies, and I''m sure it''ll be like that at North Half. The season''s been great and we just have to keep working."
Starkville High''s other state qualifiers are Jocita Buchanan, a seventh grader who competes at 165, and Fanecia Saulsberry (132). Both took third at regionals and enter the North State meet with max lifts of 305 squat and 130 bench and a 225 squat, respectively.
Thompson believes the greatest gain for his lifters has been the increased flexibility and improved technique, which are keys to gaining strength. The marks have been impressive and he hopes the increased exposure will lead to more participation and Starkville hosting a meet next season.
"What helps is going through summer and fall," Thompson said. "If you take the time to learn, which they have, you''ll lift a lot more weight. The girls have bought into the coaching and have been dedicated. I can''t wait to see how much the team continues to grow."
Starkville High''s other lifters are Latrecia Halbert, Jessica Gray, Amber Roach, Tynesha Hollingshed, Consuela Faison, Chantel Solis, Chanel Williams, Iyanna Hollingshed, Ayanna Evans, Sirlena Gibson, Chelsey Lowery and Liz Conley.
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