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Lifelong Learning

Take Two: Spuds win second straight state weightlifting championship

March 26, 2019

It may be the most singular of all sports. A low platform holds a chrome bar with numbered colored disks. Gravity and mass are the opponents. Rosin for your hands, a back support belt and wrist braces are the only gear. A singlet the uniform, with no number on a jersey. The announcer calls for the bar to be set by the tenders, announces the weight in kilograms, calls your name, and issues the one minute time.

It’s you and the bar, focus blocks out distractions. You squat, place your hands on the bar, and take a grip. The clock is ticking. You select a point on the wall to fix on and still your mind. Breathe and focus. This is the snatch. A snap of movement and you snatch the bar up, propel it above your head, arms outstretched. Squatting, you power up and lock arms and legs into position. Hold it. Three judges sit out front, and one gives the signal to lower the bar.

Now six lights are the focal point: three white on top and three red on the bottom. Two or three white lights and the lift is a success, two or more red lights signify a technical fail. Did you make the lift, did you do it? Three white. The crowd cheers and the emotion flows out of you. High fives and hugs from coaches and teammates. Handshakes and congratulations from competitors. The announcer’s voice rises above the din, it’s a new state record. The months of hard work has paid off.

The Moorhead Spuds sent 20 of their 23 qualifying lifters into this crucible of the Minnesota State High School Weightlifting Tournament held March 9 in Cannon Falls, Minn. At the tournament the crowds are small, yet support resonates around the gym. Girls and boys compete in both varsity and junior varsity.

There are 10 weight classes in each division, and the lifters compete by weight much like in wrestling. There are two events, the snatch and the clean and jerk, plus the combined total. Lifting the most weight wins the weight class. There are 120 (30 for each division) potential state records that can be set. Sixty-four new records were set at this year’s state tournament.

Each session starts with the snatch followed by the clean and jerk. In the girls junior varsity division, Moorhead High’s Claire Atchison won the 81 kg class and Jessica Pham took third. Regan Erdmann (81+ kg) and Jasmine Hetle (71 kg) took second in their weight classes. Twelve state records were set during the girls junior varsity meet.

The junior varsity boys also saw 12 new state records set. Moorhead’s Jack Newcomb won the 96 kg class while Xavier Thomas placed third at 49 kg to lead the Spuds JV boys.

The clean and jerk is next. Grip the bar, squat, and hoist the bar and its weight to your chest. Gather yourself, then step forward with one bent leg, dropping your body while propelling the enormous weight over your head. Rise to standing position, keeping the bar overhead and arms locked in place until the judges signal to set the bar down. And then the lights and hopefully success.

For the Spuds girls varsity, Hailey Sonnenberg set a state record in 71 kg with a clean and jerk lift of 185.2 lbs. (84 kg). Sonnenberg had difficulty with her first two snatch attempts.

“Going into my third attempt I was very upset that I missed my first two lifts since I was doing the same weight I did consistently in practice,” she said. “Then, as I was waiting for my final attempt, I decided that I did not train the whole year to bomb out at State, so going into the third attempt I had to let go of my frustrations to be able to succeed on the final attempt.”

Sonnenberg finished second behind Chatfield’s Jett Touchy who set a snatch record of 70 kg.

“I was a little disappointed I got second this year,” Sonnenberg said. “My competitor had an outstanding day, and I did not perform my best, so overall I cannot be too disappointed.”

Other Moorhead lifters who placed were Carleigh Vedder, 49 kg, second place; Sarah Perez, 55 kg, second place; and Claire Howell, 59 kg, third place. In the 87 kg weight class, Shane Spencer came in third and Gabby Feil placed fourth. In all, 25 of the 30 records were tied or broken by the girls varsity lifters.

In the boys varsity events, Christino D’Agostino, the current state record holder in all three categories for 96 kg, won with a combined total of 251 kg (553.4 lbs) over Luke Stanga from Northfield. Moorhead’s Jack Newcomb placed third in that class.

At 102 kg, Moorhead’s Ali Younis and Brodrick Ulrich of Cannon Falls went back and forth, increasing the weight on the bar. In the end Younis failed at 297.6 lbs (135 kilos) taking second. Moorhead’s Jacob Wesley took third.

In the final competition of the meet, James Cozad dueled with Chase Vongkham from Savage in the 109+ kg division. They were neck and neck coming into the final lift. Calling for a weight of 137 kg (302 lbs), a 7 kg increase, Cozad needed this weight to break his own state record. Three white lights glowed. James Cozad won at 109+ kg and set a new state record.

Besides winning his weight class, Cozad’s final lift also propelled the Moorhead Spuds to their second straight Minnesota weightlifting team championship.

A singular sport, yes. But in the end so much more. Teammates, friends and coaches help you through the hours of pushing yourself to improve. Achieving a goal and becoming a state champion. A victory shared by everyone who took the journey to achieve a goal to be better than the day before.

Sonnenberg, who competed in February at the National Junior Championships along with D’Agostino and Cozad, summed up her weightlifting season.

“Weightlifting has made me more confident and outgoing,” she said. “It taught me to push myself outside of my comfort zone by going into an environment that can be intimidating if someone is unfamiliar with lifting. I also made new friends that share a passion for weightlifting. I was very proud of my last high school weightlifting season. I never would have imagined I would compete at a Nationals, and it was an amazing experience I will cherish forever.”

–  Bill Grover

Photos: Moorhead High’s James Cozad lifts 137 kg during the clean and jerk portion of the Minnesota State Weightlifting Tournament held March 9 in Cannon Falls.

During the weightlifting state tournament, Moorhead’s Hailey Sonnenberg sets a new state record with her Clean & Jerk lift of 85 kg.  Photo credit:  Renée Grover 

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