The Gainesville Leopards had some hurdles to jump over at the regional powerlifting meet, but they were able to traverse their troubles and come out the other side smelling like roses.

Gainesville took first place in the Class 4A Division II, Region 6 meet and will send four lifters to the Class 4A state meet in Abilene on Saturday, March 27.

Head coach Kenneth Wilkerson said the team had high hopes, but it took some clutch lifts from some key athletes to pull out the victory.

“It was absolutely amazing because we went into it pretty much expecting to win, but it was a really, really tough situation,” Wilkerson said. “We had a hard time with guys making weight and that kind of hurt us a little bit. We also had an injury that took a guy out of a meet and we had two guys bomb out and they didn’t get to keep going. Celina was outperforming themselves. Our squat started out really shaky, but we got points from guys we didn’t expect and we did phenomenal.”

Senior Mason Ford tied for third place in his 198-pound weight class and qualified for state via his total of 1,400 pounds which were 75 more than his personal best.

Senior Dwayne Wilson finished in second place in the 198-pound weight class, coming up just 25 pounds short of first place with his total of 1,475 pounds.

Wilson also picked up the best squat in his weight class with a 660-pound squat.

Wilkerson said Wilson almost had a chance to win, but the first-place finisher from Bangs had the best day of his career.

“He did great,” Wilkerson said. “The other guy just outperformed him. He had a great squat and he had a phenomenal overall total. He had a great day with bench and squat and the deadlift is getting there. We’re going to put in some work there.”

Senior Jesse Coffey claimed a first-place finish in his 242-pound weight class, blowing away second place by 125 pounds with his 1,570 total.

“He had a great day and he squatted a personal record 630 pounds,” Wilkerson said. “He did really well and the thing with him was his first squat wasn’t really good, but he recovered really well to be regional champion.”

Finally, junior Yovanni Juarez pulled out the victory in the 181-pound weight class with his total of 1,670 pounds. Juarez is ranked first in the state. Wilkerson said he expected Juarez to win the regional meet and thinks Juarez has a strong chance at winning state too.

“He had a really good day by most standards, but not by his standards,” Wilkerson said. “He did hit a personal best on deadlift with 540 pounds. His bench was 445 pounds, which was short of his personal best by about 25 pounds. His squat of 685 pounds was 20 short of his personal best. He’s ranked number one in the state.”

Juarez also set a regional record on the squat, bench and total for his weight class while also picking up the best bench award for the light platforms.

While he didn’t advance to state, Alexis Huerta also helped the Leopards claim the regional title with his third-place finish while Javier Fraire and Rafael Chavez took fourth-place finishes to add to Gainesville’s total.

Wilkerson said winning the regional meet was awesome for the program, especially because of how young the team is.

“Being able to fight through the bad things that happened was so important,” Wilkerson said. “The other big thing that people don’t quite realize is that they changed the regions this year and the boys’ region is huge. It’s twice as big and twice as hard and they added Class 3A. There are lots of good powerlifting schools that are suddenly in our region.”

Headed into the state meet, Wilkerson said the main goal is to improve each lifter’s confidence under the bar.

The team is especially motivated to perform well after last year’s state meet was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to know who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish mentally,” Wilkerson said. “We need to really dial in on each step to get ready for each lift and be ready to attack the bar. They’re very driven and very, very ready. They’re excited to finish off their powerlifting career the right way.”

Reach Patrick Hayslip at and Twitter at @PatrickHayslip

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