Orange County girls powering an emerging SETX powerhouse program
Published 12:12 am Friday, March 24, 2023
BRIDGE CITY — Powerlifting isn’t an official UIL-sanctioned sport, but the Bridge City High School girl’s powerlifting team is determined to change the status quo.
With growing numbers, 14 regional qualifiers and two state medalists, the program’s rapid ascension is putting the school and the sport they love on the map.
“Girls don’t realize how strong they can be,” Head Coach Rachel Hamerly said. “My biggest goal is for you to walk out of here knowing you are a strong individual, literally and figuratively.”
The fourth-year coach said this season was absolutely the best in program history.
The team’s participation numbers nearly doubled, and 14 girls advanced to the regional meet, which tied last year’s record-setting mark. Two members, Hallie Bearden and Avery Weidner, reached the Texas High School Powerlifting Association state finals.
Both lifters returned home with new hardware — Bearden claimed first place in the 114-pound weight class, while Weidner finished fourth in the 97-pound division. They’re the first two state medalists Hamerly has coached in her career, and it seems there might be more yet to come.
“Our girls have been fantastic,” Hamerly said. “We’ve seen our numbers increase, and the girls are just super successful and pushing forward.”
These aren’t the only signs the program is taking a leap to the next level. A number of upperclassmen stepped up as leaders in the weight room, and their coaches are impressed with the team’s chemistry and support system.
“Everybody has their own strengths,” Hamerly said. “Some girls are more of the encouraging type, and some are better at teaching and critiquing. Then I have others that are gonna push you harder than you’ve ever been pushed. They’re helping in all different spots because they understand that’s what we need as a team.”
Hamerly added that as the Cardinals take the next step, it feels like everyone involved is truly finding their stride.
She feels more confident in her own coaching, and believes the athletes are unlocking their own confidence as the program progresses. While there isn’t a real secret to their success, there is a bit of deception involved.
“In the weight room, I don’t let them count,” Hamerly said. “We’ll put weight on the bar and we’re not gonna tell you what it is. You just go and lift. They’ll rep the weight and ask after how much it was, and it turns out to be twice what they thought they could do. Their faces just light up and their jaw drops.”
The team may have just wrapped up a stellar season, but Hamerly is already looking ahead to the future.
She plans to give the student-athletes a month or two off, but they’ll be right back to working in the weight room come summertime.
The plan is to work individually with each lifter to target their weaknesses, helping them improve their strength in whichever areas are most needed.
Most of the team’s top performers are coming back next year, and Hamerly wants to see them take on a new weight class. While she didn’t reveal any names, the head coach also mentioned several younger lifters on the roster are capable of making a run at a state title next year, given that they put in work over the offseason.
Hamerly emphasized the team feels like a family. Much of the program’s growth in numbers has been driven by the diversity of students who join — team members come from a variety of other extracurriculars with band members, cheerleaders, dancers and more all represented.
Powerlifting has become a space where students can become part of a community while developing their own strength and confidence in the process.
“I just love this sport,” Hamerly said. “I’ve been involved with it for a pretty long time now, and I have no issues telling any kid walking down the hallway, ‘Hey, you should join powerlifting.’ I think the kids know that I’ll push you to do what you need to do, and I’ll work with you however I can.
“We’re turning this into something that people can be proud of in Bridge City.”
— Written by Keagan Smith