Alexandrea Nall likes defying expectation.
It’s one of the reasons the Connally senior was drawn to the sport of powerlifting. Nall gets a kick out of seeing the occasional stunned looks when she hoists more than twice her own weight above her head.
“It’s just different,” Nall said. “Every other sport, you can try to hit a home run or something, but with girls lifting heavy weights, people don’t expect that. So for me to be able to do that, it feels good.”
Nall and her teammate Kenzee Gerik will each make their fourth straight appearance at the Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association State Championships this weekend at Waco’s Extraco Events Center. The Connally seniors are among more than 40 athletes from Central Texas schools who will be among the nearly 900 lifters to take part in the meet.
The athletes will come in all sizes, from every corner of the state. Gerik competes in the 97-pound class, the smallest division in the THSWPA. Like Nall, she enjoys surprising people with a strength that belies her petite frame. In fact, that dichotomy is what prompted her to join the Cadets’ powerlifting team as a freshman in 2015.
“I was maxing out, and the littler girls were on the right side and the stronger girls were on the left side,” Gerik said. “So I was on the right side, because I was super little. But I showed out. They were not ready. They did not expect me to lift as much as I did. I didn’t (expect it either).”
Naturally, strength matters in powerlifting. But in order for a lifter to maximize her potential, it takes more than sheer muscle and willpower.
“There’s more technique than you might think. It’s not just raw strength,” said Connally’s Clint Clayton, who took over as head coach this year after previously serving as an assistant. “Obviously they’re stronger than a lot of people. Then it comes down to technique and following the rules of it, making sure you don’t move your feet and different things like that. Just being cognizant of what everyone else is doing. You also have to look at what everybody else is doing weight-wise, so you’re aware of that, so you know if you need to bump (your attempted weight).”
Nall certainly keeps an eye on the competition. She finished last year’s state meet as the silver medalist in her 148-pound class, while Rio Hondo’s Andrea Garcia took home the gold. She has developed a friendly rivalry with Garcia, as she simultaneously roots for her competitor and wants to beat her all at once.
“We’ve become really good friends, but she’s always gotten first,” Nall said. “So my goal is to close the gap. Last year she beat me by 100 pounds, but this year I’d like to close the gap or potentially get first.”
If Nall’s efforts at the regional meet are any indication, she’s poised to heave those barbells right through the roof. She owns all the regional records for the 148-pound class, with bests of 380 pounds in the squat, 200 in the bench press and 385 in the deadlift. While Nall’s max in the squat was achieved last year, her total of 965 pounds at this year’s regional meet also set a record for her division.
Gerik, meanwhile, took silver at the regional meet in the 97-pound class to Hillsboro’s Guadalupe Gobellan, who bested Gerik by 20 total pounds. However, Gerik impressed in the bench press, lifting 125 pounds, which not only ranked 20 pounds better than any lifter in her class, including Gobellan, but also was better than 37 lifters in weight classes far above hers.
“I used to be very bad at bench, so bad. I can’t even explain it,” Gerik said. “I don’t know how I did it. … A lot of them lift less. It makes me feel good that even though they got first, I beat a record and they didn’t.”
While Nall has a serious shot at a state title, Gerik is targeting to reach the medal stand for the first time since her freshman year.
Both lifters will try to rely on strategy as much as strength. Clayton said that he encourages his lifters to use their three lifts at each discipline wisely. Generally, that means getting up a weight that they know they can handle on the first attempt in order to put something on the board, then pushing themselves a little on the second attempt, while perhaps closing with a total that they haven’t ever lifted.
“But the main thing is just working,” the coach said. “Not being afraid to get up here and work and do extra, and not afraid to lift heavy weight. Maybe you won’t get it or it won’t feel good, but see what it feels like. Sometimes you’ve got to do things that aren’t comfortable to get better.”