The Florence High School powerlifting team finished the year strong after competing in the Region 2, Division 3 regional meets earlier this month. Three girls competed March 3 in Temple and four boys traveled to West on March 10.

The team did not have any qualifiers for the state finals, but the Buffaloes’ coach is proud of the students’ hard work.

“They’re a great group of kids and they fight really hard,” said Richard Scales, powerlifting coach at Florence. “Losing is not something they’re fond of. They’re always trying to increase their totals and get better.”

The girls team is especially strong.

“It’s the first year in six years I haven’t taken a girl from the team to the state meet,” Scales said.

Many students beat their own personal bests, and others overcame injury and hardship to finish the competition.

Hannah Gray hurt her knee during her second attempt at squat.

Then, during the bench press she was pushing her limits and dropped the bar on her face.

“It happened really fast. The spotters caught it but it was still enough to bruise and swell,” Scales said.

Gray is family to the coach: He has known her since she was 4 years old.

“She was feeling really panicky so I was trying to get her to calm down and she went back at it,” Scales said.

Gray lifted the same weight “like it was nothing,” he said.

“She racked it, sat up and said, ‘We should have put more weight on it.’ A lot of people are really interested in how she turned that around,” he said.

Scales competed for Florence as a student, and made it to the state meet his senior year.

“I like the level of competitiveness,” he said.

Powerlifting is straightforward and to the point.

“In other sports, there’s other things that affect the outcome of a competition,” Scales said. “But in powerlifting, 200 pounds is 200 pounds, so you either go out there and do it or not.”

An intense regimen

One student on the team lives to powerlift.

Cameron Naumann, a junior, started the sport in eighth grade and became a letterman in his freshman year.

Scales said Naumann is one of the team’s leaders.

“I try to inspire everybody to do better,” Naumann said.

Naumann enjoys challenging himself.

“It’s really competitive, so I just pump weight constantly trying to stay ahead,” he said. “It’s challenging to lift weight you’ve never lifted before.”

Once competitions begin in January, students compete every two weeks. During meet weeks, lifters concentrate on form and technique and lift around 70 percent of their max. “They also have to practice and follow the commands and rules,” Scales said.

During each of the three powerlifting disciplines — squat, bench press and deadlift — the referee guides the process with commands to lift and drop the weights.

On off-weeks, students push their limits. “They’ll go heavy, lifting 80-90 percent of their maxes, building up muscle,” Scales said.

One of the problems is keeping students from trying to do too much.

“They take ownership of what they’re doing and go as far as they want to go,” Scales said. “Sometimes I have to rein it in a little bit, tell them when they’re reaching.”

Like the sport itself, their diet is no frills. “I tell them to eat like a kid,” Scales said. “Take out sugars, sodas and junk food and concentrate on real meat and potatoes, straight old-school tradition.”

Lessons learned

Students learn the feeling of independence.

“At the meets, I’m really just a bus driver,” Scales said. “They know what they want to do, and they basically run it themselves. If they need help, then I jump in.”

Students reach a series of set goals during training, which helps with mental preparation, Scales explained. “Me and the student work together to develop the individual plans.”

To get to the next level beyond regional competition, students have to place first or second.

Naumann came agonizingly close.

He was sitting at second place. “Then this kid came out of nowhere and did really well,” Scales said. Suddenly, Naumann was tasked with deadlifting 440 pounds, or five pounds more than his max.

“He just couldn’t do it so he ended up placing fourth, so he was not happy,” Scales said.

It was a rollercoaster ride for Naumann, but powerlifting also is about controlling emotions.

“When I missed out, I was pretty upset, but Coach Scales talked to me and helped me calm down,” Naumann said.

Currently many of the powerlifters are in track and field or other sports and will start training after Thanksgiving.

“Everybody should try powerlifting at least once; it’s a great experience,” Naumann said.

“The team worked really hard — everybody increased their totals and we’ll do better next year.”

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