Last March, Ellison’s Yakariel Young barely missed qualifying for the state powerlifting meet by just six points.
Ellison’s Treston Hudnall made it to the largest stage in the sport last year and placed sixth in his weight class.
Lagi Marina Ah Sang also qualified for the state championship in 2018 for the Lady Eagles powerlifters as a freshman and placed fifth in her weight class while tying for a state record in the deadlift.
All three Ellison powerlifters qualified for state early this year and each came into the season with a chip on their shoulders.
Powerlifting at Ellison is just in its fourth season after former coach Richard Palvado started the program in the 2014-2015 school year.
“Coach Polvado did a real good job last year getting kids in here,” said Adrian Miller, the current powerlifting coach at Ellison. “I just wanted to continue to make the push and make it available to the kids.
“No matter your size, no matter your gender — I just reached out to everyone in the hallways that we could get to come out here and participate.”
Fifty-three students came out to the Eagles weight room this season. Although not all 53 competed, the sport is continually growing at Ellison.
Keith Jackson II was the first Ellison powerlifter to commit to a NCAA Division I powerlifting program last year when he signed with the University of Texas.
“He was a powerlifter and went to state and he really kind of opened a lot of eyes around here,” Miller said. “Like ‘wow, I can use the stage for this to further my academic career,’ so anything that helps these kids get to school ... it’s great.”
Continued outreach from Miller and his current lifters has grown the sport around the school, most students have stumbled into competing.
“Originally my number one sport was football,” Young admitted. “Normally to get stronger in football you have to get in the weight room, so powerlifting is just something else to do for that.
“I decided to try powerlifting and I ended up finding love for it, so now powerlifting is my number one sport.”
The senior was a running back for the Eagles in the fall, but has decided to turn his focus full-time to powerlifting in college.
“I think the moment I pulled 500 for the first time at regionals, that’s when I realized I love doing this and I want to do this all the time,” Young said. “If I had to choose between football and powerlifting, that was the moment I said ‘powerlifting.’”
Young is only in his second year of competing in the sport and is determined to cap off his senior year on his terms.
“Because last year I said I wanted to go to state and I didn’t make it by five points so I said I have to make it this year,” he said. “I can’t graduate without going to state, so now I have a chance to take it all the way.”
Hudnall found his way to the sport through wrestling.
“It began my sophomore year,” the senior recalled. “I had no intentions of lifting, I was focusing on wrestling until coach Polvado, our coach last year, introduced me to powerlifting.
“And it just stuck with me throughout my whole high school career.”
This will be the second trip to state for the three-year powerlifter.
Ah Sang’s father coached her as she grew up competing in track and field. He also instilled in his daughter the importance of weightlifting in athletics.
Her father also competed in powerlifting in his high school days and Ah Sang decided to take up the sport in order to continue to grow the family legacy.
“It’s crazy that when I started out I felt like I was like the weakest person my freshman year,” she said. “But then I went to my first meet and I actually placed and I was like, ‘wow, I can actually do something with this.’
“And going to state last year, it was just crazy. And this year I’m expecting no less.”
Every morning, Monday through Thursday, the weight room at Ellison is typically full of powerlifters by 6:45 a.m.
“Sometimes some of those guys and girls come after school and get additional lifts in,” Miller said. “Or they’ll ask me questions about techniques. There’s a lot of kids that are coachable. They want to be successful. They want to do it right, and now that they’ve bought into it, they’re reaping the reward because of it.”
Although powerlifting is an individual sport, the team aspect is what motivates both the Eagles and Lady Eagles.
“Part of the motivation comes from him,” Young said, pointing across the weight room office at Hudnall. “Treston Hudnall having a bigger bench than me — I can’t stand having anyone being stronger than me so I get in the weight room and I say ‘all right, if you’re stronger than me than I’m going to get in the weight room and do what I have to do to be stronger than you.’ I don’t like being behind anybody.”
Early mornings and late nights can bond teams together. It’s also added encouragement to keep on pushing toward the next goal for Hudnall.
“Knowing that if I don’t practice I won’t get any better at it is my motivation to wake up and just be a better person, be a better lifter for my team,” Hudnall said.
Ah Sang agreed.
“Everyone in that weight room, they’re my family. We all push each other to become better.”
There’s one other common denominator among powerlifters — confidence.
“The confidence they build over time, as far as coming from a coaching standpoint, they haven’t hit a ceiling yet,” Miller said of his three state qualifiers. “Each and every meet they were setting new personal records and breaking them every week.
Added Young: “If you don’t like being weaker than somebody, this is the place to compete and show that you’re stronger than everybody. Because being weaker than somebody is not a good feeling, period.”
For Hudnall, who is 5-foot-5 and competes in the 148-pound class, there was a certain amount of confidence that came from finding the sport he feels he excels the most at.
“It was actually the last qualifying meet to get into regionals and I lacked confidence in myself throughout the whole year,” he recalled. “But that day it made me build my self-confidence up in lifting 380 pounds in a squat.
“I couldn’t even lift that in my first meet, so seeing the progress that I made throughout the whole season made me realize that I actually am good at this sport.”
For those who think that powerlifting is a male-dominated sport that’s all about lifting weights, Ah Sang hopes other girls will give it a try and see what it’s all about for themselves.
“Don’t think about what other people are going to say or think about you,” she said. “You can be as strong as any man and anyone can do this, so just do it. Nothing’s going to hold you back but yourself.
“It’s not just about lifting weights — it is mainly about that — but it’s also about improving yourself and getting better, getting stronger and seeing where that takes you because you can start from the bottom and find yourself at the top like I did.”
“That’s one thing that I try to push to kids who don’t know the sport — you don’t have to be the most athletic kid,” Miller noted. “But if you come out here and you put in the work, the sky’s the limit for you.”
The girls’ state meet is March 14 at the Extraco Events Center in Waco.
The boys state competition is March 23 at the Taylor County Expo Center in Abilene.
Although Ah Sang qualified at her third meet earlier this season, she finished third in the regional 249-pound class.
While she has her eyes set on taking first in the state before she graduates, Ah Sang has a few goals she’d like to check off along the way.
“I always want to have the highest weight for deadlift and have no one be able to touch it for many years to come,” she said. “That would be a really good feeling.
“Right now I’m at 445. That’s the regional record I broke last week, but for state we’re pulling 500.”
Ah Sang is no stranger to breaking records, in her first appearance at the state meet she broke the state record in the deadlift and aims to break it once more this year.
Both Young and Hudnall qualified for state at the end of February, and while they didn’t have to attend the regional last weekend, both went out to continue to work toward that final stage.
The 5-foot-4 Young qualified for state in the 165-pound class with a personal record of 1,400.
He placed second at regionals with a 530 squat, 335 bench and 535 deadlift.
“For me it means that I set the bar and I surpassed it,” Young said of qualifying for state. “I did what I had to do to get there and now I can go off to college with a clear conscience that I’m one of the best in the state.
“I don’t want just the bragging rights, but the bragging rights are nice.”
Hudnall placed second in the 148 class with a total of 1,250. He squatted 435 and had a 475 deadlift.
The senior also set a regional record with a 340 bench. The previous record for the 148 weight class bench press was 305 set in 2011 and 2017.
“It’s unreal lifting a weight that you could have never thought about doing before,” Hudnall said. “And just hitting it is that realization that I’m actually strong, I can lift this weight.
“The fact that you have other people competing with you and they’re not lifting the same weight as you adds to the self-accomplishment that you did it, you’ve beaten someone’s number.”
“It’s a special feeling for me,” he added. “I really can’t describe the perfect words for it.
“It truly means a lot to my heart knowing that I’m a smaller person than most people and that I found a sport that I was actually good at.”