AXTELL — Four years ago, when Brittany Frillou first approached Axtell coach Mike Cadell and asked if she could start powerlifting, Cadell said no.
“Just to mess with her,” the coach said, grinning at the memory.
Cadell enjoys that kind of playful banter with his athletes. Especially one like Frillou, a grinder who figures that if her coach tells her that four sets of 10 repetitions on the triceps machine will help build her bench-press strength, then 15 sets would be even better.
Cadell’s blend of humor and encouragement will be missed by the athletes of Axtell. He has served as the school’s athletic director and football coach for 20 years, as well as leading the powerlifting program and logging a couple of different stints as head softball coach.
This weekend marks his swan song for Axtell athletics, as he is leaving to pursue other opportunities. Eric Blenden has already taken over as the new athletic director and football coach, but Cadell will take a group of four qualifiers to the Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association state meet, which is Friday and Saturday at the Extraco Events Center in Waco.
Fittingly, that group is headed up by Frillou, the program’s pioneer.
“She’s grown it. I haven’t grown it, she’s grown it,” Cadell said. “Her success had other girls go, ‘I want to try that.’”
It’s true. All three of Axtell’s other state-bound lifters – senior Kayla Perkins, junior Kaylie Hudson and freshman Taylor Kimberling — agreed that Frillou’s leadership and dedication inspired them to give powerlifting a shot.
“I wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t been in it,” said Perkins, who won the 114-pound division at the regional meet.
Added Hudson: “She actually talked me into coming out. I would always look up to her. She would always throw the best (in track), and I wanted to throw like her. She’d powerlift. I’ve always been stronger than the rest, just naturally
“She was like, ‘You should do powerlifting!’ I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know, that’s kind of crazy.’ Everybody is like, ‘Ugh, powerlifting, what, girls do that?’ She talked me into it. I started up and really enjoyed it.”
For her part, Frillou said she likes trying “things that other people don’t do.” When she first came up with the notion of starting powerlifting, it didn’t matter to her that Axtell didn’t have a girls team. She just noticed that she was competing with some of Axtell’s boys athletes in the weight room, and she figured, “Why not?”
Once she started, Frillou dived headlong. She was all in – and then some. It’s not uncommon for Frillou to get in a lifting session during the powerlifting team’s before-school 6 a.m. workout, add another during athletic period, then return for a third time in between track and softball practices after school. Occasionally, if she’s not too sore, she’s even darted back to the weight room after softball as well, for a little extra arm work.
“I always get told, ‘Go home, Brittany. Go home.’ No, I’m trying to win,” said Frillou, who is making her fourth straight trip to the state tournament. “I believe firmly that there is always someone better than you somewhere. So all the parties I’ve missed, all the friends I’ve lost, because I don’t do the things that they do. I’m in here, working my butt off.”
The life of a powerlifter at a Class 2A school requires such heavy labor – both literally and figuratively. All four of the girls are also involved with the softball program, Frillou, Hudson and Perkins as players and Kimberling as a manager for her father Chad Kimberling’s team. Kimberling, Frillou and Hudson are members of the track and field team, while Perkins gave up track for a part-time job.
“So you get home late, you’ve got to do your homework. It’s hard,” said Hudson, who qualified as the top 2A lifter in the 148-pound division at regionals. “But I’m getting better, and powerlifting helps with any sport. The other day, I hit a home run way over the fence and all the people in the stands were like, ‘Dang, that powerlifting sure is paying off!’”
Perkins said she can handle the lifting and the long hours more than the “recovery.”
“The worst thing is the ice baths,” she said. “Those are the worst, I swear. It hurts.”
It’s no easy chore making weight, either. Hudson once lost 16 pounds in two weeks to drop down a division. Last year, in a show of solidarity, Cadell promised the girls at the regional meet that he wouldn’t eat anything unhealthy. Then he discovered the hospitality room.
“I go in there and start eating chicken like crazy because I’m dying, I’m so hungry,” Cadell said. “Then I walk out with an apple, because I said I wouldn’t eat anything, so I started eating the apple. They were dying, man. I don’t know how they do it.”
This weekend marks the state meet’s first appearance in Waco, as it has often made its home in Corpus Christi. Axtell’s lifters are excited about the move, in hopes of generating more local fan support and, naturally, avoiding the five-hour drive to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Cadell believes all four of his lifters have a shot at performing well at state, headed up by Frillou, who won the 165-pound regional title with a total of 870 pounds in the sport’s three disciplines – the squat, bench press and dead lift.
Frillou desperately craves that title, both for herself and her coach.
“It makes you want to cry, thinking about it,” she said. “Sacrificing. I put my body through things that you probably wouldn’t ever think about doing. I will make sure that I win state this year, for me and for him. Very sure about it. He deserves every bit of that fame.”
Cadell admits that this whole year at Axtell has felt a little surreal, knowing it was his last go-round. His final football game with the Longhorns struck an emotional chord. He expects this weekend’s competition to do the same.
“It’s weird that this is my last deal,” he said. “But it’s fun that this is my last deal and it’s at state, where you want to finish.”
And the coach who initially declined Frillou’s request to start a powerlifting team wants nothing more than to see that senior become Axtell’s first – and his last – state champion.
“What a great way to end a career somewhere. And good for her,” Cadell said. “Because she had the guts enough to be the first kid to want to do this, from a girls standpoint.”