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Vargas and Guerrero among five Big 7 state champions

Five boys and seven girls from the seven Mission, Sharyland and La Joya ISD high schools, the Big 7, qualified for the THSPA (Texas High School Powerlifting Association) and the THSWPA (Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association) state meets and eight of them returned home with state medals; two bronze, one silver and five gold.

With last year’s state meets being cancelled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been two years since high school powerlifters from across the state have had the opportunity to compete at the state level. And with five of the 12 Big 7 athletes that competed at that level earning state championships in their respective weight classes, they certainly made the most of that opportunity.

Of the five boys, two were from Sharyland High and one each was from Pioneer, Mission Veterans and Palmview high schools. The two Rattlers were Patricio Chavez (4th place, 148 lb. weight class) and Rolando Saenz (7th place, 165 lb. weight class). The Diamondback was Luis Garcia (7th place, 123 lb. weight class) and the Patriot was Luis De Hoyos (4th place, 165 lb. weight class). The Lobo was Alberto Vargas who won the state championship in the 220 lb. weight class.

Powerlifting involves competing in three different lifts. The first lift is the squat, the second is the bench press and the third is the dead lift. Each competitor gets three attempts at each lift and the highest ‘good’ lift counts towards that lifter’s total. The best of each of the three lifts are then totaled with the winner being the lifter with the highest total weight lifted in each weight class.

Vargas’ highest good lifts were 655 lbs. in the squat, 450 lbs. in the bench press and 610 lbs. in the dead lift. That made his gold medal winning total 1,715 lbs.

“Going into the dead lift I was in first place,” Vargas said. “My best squat lift of 655 lbs. was a PR (personal record). My previous PR was 650 lbs. But I went down from my PR of 465 lbs. on the bench press when I only lifted 450 lbs. My dead lift of 610 lbs. was a new PR for me. My previous PR was 575 lbs.”

With his new PR on the dead lift being 35 lbs. higher than his previous PR and with his margin of victory at the state meet only being 25 lbs., had Vargas not PR’ed the dead lift, he would not have won the gold medal.
With this being his first state meet, Vargas shared what the experience was like when he said, “It’s unexplainable. You get so hyped up seeing all the fans that you feel you can lift the whole round. There’s a lot of adrenaline pumping. I was just so excited when I realized that I had won the state championship that I started crying. I couldn’t believe it.”

All seven of the Big 7 girls that qualified for the state meet in Corpus Christi returned with medals. Two were from Mission, two were from Sharyland and three were from Pioneer high schools. The Lady Rattlers were Jolette Garza (2nd place, 123 lb. weight class) and Natalia Davila (1st place, 165 lb. weight class), the Lady Diamondbacks were Iliana Vasquez (3rd place, 132 lb. weight class), Daniela Roman (1st place, 148 lb. weight class) and Crystal Palafox (1st place, 259 lb. weight class) and the Lady Eagles were Aleena Chavez (3rd place, 132 lb. weight class) and Erika Guerrero (1st place, 259 lb. weight class).

Unlike Vargas who struggled as a freshman, Guerrero did so well her freshman year that she qualified for state. So what was it that got her into powerlifting in the first place? She credits her volleyball coach, Edna Clemons.

“My freshman year I was playing volleyball and we would go into the weight room to work out and my volleyball coach told me that I should try powerlifting,” Guerrero said. “It was kind of hard to get the hang of it at first, but then I started placing and I actually went to regionals and state as well as a freshman.”

Now in her junior year, Guerrero has actually qualified for the state meet three years in a row but did not get to compete at state last year due to the pandemic shut down.

Erika Guerrero. Courtesy photo

“It was really devastating having gone through our whole season but not getting to go to our biggest meet,” Guerrero said. “But that motivated me to just work harder for this year. During the summer I started doing work outs and while we usually start lifting around the beginning of December, with the football season extending longer than usual this year I did not have access to the weight room. That is why I would text my coaches to ask them to give me a work out I could do from home. And I started lifting at home.”

Guerrero’s gold medal winning total of 1,130 lbs. was made up of her 510 lb. squat, 270 lb. bench press and 350 lb. dead lift. Her winning strategy involved starting each of the three lifts strong.

“I was first place all the way through,” Guerrero said. “When I went in, my openers (the first of three lifts) were supposed to win it. So I knew that if I hit my openers, I would be ok. And then when it came to deadlift, coach was calculating everything and he knew what the others would need to lift to beat me. But then I hit my opener in my deadlift and that’s what made the difference.”

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