Traditional event medalists in the 101 lb. category include first place winner Ella Dunn (center) and Coral Shores’ Julia Rusch (far right) who claimed sixth place.

The Marathon Dolphins may have had fewer regional qualifiers on their weightlifting squad than their Upper Keys and Key West neighbors, but they may have the best chance at striking state gold at the FHSAA State Championships on Feb. 16 and 17. 

The Fins made the most of their time in Lemon Bay on Feb. 3, winning the runner-up trophy in traditional lifting and third place in Olympic. Contributing to their total points in both events were a trio of athletes who won the FHSAA Region 4 1A Championship gold medals in their weight classes. 

Ella Dunn will make her second appearance at states to compete in both events after winning first place in traditional and second in Olympic for the 101 lb. weight class. The tiny-but-mighty junior did not medal last year, but hard work in the offseason has moved her up in the rankings, and she is sitting at the top of her weight class, tied for first in both events.  

Senior Sierra Earnhardt will make her first appearance at the state meet in the 119 lb. class. Earnhardt won the regional gold medal in Olympic lifts and took silver in traditional, qualifying for a spot at both events at states. Earnhardt is ranked second in the Olympic event. 

Mikkel Ross, the Keys’ only medalist last season, will return to Lakeland in the 129 lb. class. Ross won silver in traditional and third in Olympic lifting. She currently ranks in the top six in both events, putting her within reach of double medals this season. 

Marathon’s top performer in Lemon Bay was sophomore Justice Lee Isom, who claimed double gold medals in the 183 lb. class. Lee Isom qualified for states last season as a freshman and finished just outside of a medal. The experience motivated her to dedicate herself to her craft, and the dividends are clear – she’s ranked in a two-way tie for first in both events at the state level. Even a conservative set of lifts could secure a medal for the school record snatch champion. 

The Fins will have plenty of Monroe County support in Lakeland, as six lifters from Coral Shores and one from Key West will also make the trip north. 

Qualifying for Coral Shores were Julia and Rachel Rusch in the 101 lb. and 110 lb. classes, respectively. Julia will compete in both events at states after securing sixth place in traditional and seventh in Olympic lifts at regionals. Rachel will represent the ’Canes in traditional, for which she won bronze at regionals. She took sixth in Olympic, but a talented weight class edged her out for an at-large bid. 

Kali Gomer earned a spot at states with her silver performance in the Olympic event in the 139 lb. weight class. At 169 lbs., Coral Shores has their best chance for a state medal in Jennille Arias, who won silver in traditional and bronze in Olympic at regionals. Her performances there rank her in the top five in both events in Florida. The final two qualifiers for the ’Canes both compete in the unlimited class. Vanessa Gabriel won bronze in Olympic, while teammate Sydney Eysenbach took fourth place. In traditional lifts, the athletes traded spots on the podium, with Eysenbach winning bronze and Gabriel taking fourth place. Both athletes qualified in both events.

The Conchs competed at Sebastian River High School on Feb. 3 for the 2A Regional Championships, with two athletes cracking the top 10. Dazmine Jenkins placed second in Olympic lifts in the 154 lb. class and seventh in traditional. Teammate Claire Boysen was sixth in traditional and ninth in Olympic. Jenkins’ Olympic lifts, a 135-pound snatch and 155-pound clean for a total of 290 pounds, were good enough to make it to the next round. She will be the lone qualifier from Key West for the FHSAA 2A State Championships. Jenkins’ performance at regionals has her ranked right around eighth place in the state, within reach of a medal should she lift her best next weekend. 

Regional medalists in the unlimited class take to the podium in the Olympic event. Keys athletes pictured are Sydney Eysenbach (far left) and Vanesa Gabriel (fourth from left).

Beyond the state qualifiers, both Coral Shores and Marathon had some notable regional performances. As explained by Marathon coach Jessie Schubert, who started the first girls weightlifting program in Monroe County, only the winner in each event and weight class is guaranteed a spot at states. Though most second-, third- and fourth-place finishes typically advance, a stacked weight class can mean high-performing athletes stay home. For Marathon, Sabrina Schofield won bronze in traditional lifting at 199 lbs. but did not make the cut. Her total weight lifted matched other athletes who qualified, but the state roster came down to scratches versus lifts made on a first attempt, bumping Schofield out of contention. 

As the girls’ season heads toward states, the boys’ season is just beginning. On Jan. 31, two Keys teams officially opened their seasons with a tri-meet in Tavernier. The Fins and ’Canes competed against Gulliver Prep to kick off the boys weightlifting season. Marathon won first place in both events, edging out Coral Shores 35-26 in Olympic and 35-28 in traditional. Gulliver came in third for both events. In the 119 lb. category, Coral Shores’ Liam Bursa and Nick Brown traded first and second places in Olympic and traditional lifts, respectively, and Zane Rindom won the Olympic event at 219 lbs. Marathon’s Zachary Antonelli (129), Matthias Martinez Velez (139), Damian Staciewicz (154) and Tanner Ross (199) won both events in their weight classes. Rounding out the Fins’ wins was Max Childress, who won the Olympic event at 183 lbs.

Photos by Amanda Lee/CONTRIBUTED

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.