Powerlifters do more than pull own weight
Whitnall club claims third straight state title
Greenfield — In just four short years ago, the Whitnall powerlifting club has gone from nonexistence to becoming a dominating force.
Organized in 2007 with just seven members and without official recognition by the school district, the program has more than overcome its humble beginnings by racking up state and national championships with stunning regularity.
Whitnall claimed its third straight Wisconsin High School Powerlifting Division II state crown two weeks ago, collecting 87 points to beat Seymour and Wisconsin Dells, each with 19 points. The Falcons' total also topped the 55 schools in all three divisions, as the overall second place went to Division I Neenah with 49.
This is also the third straight season that Whitnall has scored more points than any other school, regardless of division. In 2010, Whitnall tallied 95 points to beat River Falls (Division I) with 47, and, in 2009, the Falcons scored 61 points to tip Neenah, with 59.
This year, they sent 15 qualifiers to state and earned 13 top-10 finishes, including three individual championships - Keng Xiong at 114 pounds, Ryan Lepkowski at 148 pounds and Nathan Marshall at 242 pounds.
Xiong set three state records for his weight class, while Lepkowski also posted three state records and Marshall two state records and one new American mark.
The Falcons are now on their way to the national meet this weekend in Corpus Christi, Texas, looking to match or top last year's second-place finish.
In powerlifting, entrants are placed in one of 11 weight classes ranging from 114 pounds to 275 pounds or more.
Each lifter participates in three disciplines: squat (start from a standing position, then squat and return to the original position), bench (lie on a bench with the weight motionless on the chest, then at a judge's signal, raise the weight until the arms are fully extended and the elbows locked) and deadlift (pick up the weight from the floor and move into an upright position with the knees locked and shoulders back).
The lifters compete against everyone else, again regardless of division, with points awarded for each place. Those totals are then added up to produce the team scores.
Getting a lift from the sport
The sport is popular among its participants, and head coach R.G. Luckow said one reason is that it can improve self-esteem.
"The kids find out they are getting stronger," he said. "They get in better shape and they look and feel better. Once they achieve some success, they stay with it."
A case in point is Marshall, a senior who has lifted for all four years at Whitnall and who owns a series of state and national records, including a 710-pound squat at this year's state meet.
He is rated first in the country in his weight class, currently holds six national records and is just 28 pounds away from a world record, Luckow said. He and Xiong were invited onto the last year's world powerlifting team but had to decline due to school conflicts.
"I just love to lift weights," Marshall said. "I like to go to meets and show what I can do. This also gets my name out there. People know who I am."
He said the recognition earned through powerlifting helped him in football, his other sports career. Marshall was a highly regarded lineman at Whitnall who will play next season at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
A growing activity
Success stories like Marshall's drive the continued growth of the Whitnall powerlifting program.
"Kids know that powerlifting can be a good time," Luckow said. "We're all kind of like a family. Also, it's one of the few sports where you can work right next to a national champion."
The Whitnall program ran for two years before being officially recognized by the district in 2009.
"The district just had a moratorium on additional clubs then," Luckow explained.
After parents, coaches and community members asked the Whitnall School Board to reconsider, the club was officially born.
"It is completely self-funded," Luckow said. "The coaches are not paid and most of our funds come through donations and the proceeds of one annual meet. This can be an expensive sport, and the parents purchase the equipment for their children. (The parents) have just been outstanding. They are supportive and involved with the program."
From the starting group of seven lifters, the club now has 34, including four girls. An even more promising sign is the growing number of freshmen joining the ranks.
"Generally, the kids as freshmen are kind of hesitant to get into it," Luckow said. "They join as sophomores, when they know more people. This year, though, we had 16 freshmen, which is outstanding. It was because they knew last year's freshman and saw how well it went for them. You can see a progression each year."
This year's team also included Ulice Payne III, the son of the former Marquette basketball star and current lawyer and civic leader. Payne III finished second in the state meet in the 275-plus class.
The powerlifting season begins in November, "the day after the Whitnall football season ends," Luckow quipped.
It then runs until late March - and that is when the Falcons seem to shine their brightest.
The Whitnall Powerlifting Club has accomplished a great deal in its four seasons of existence, with numerous state and national championships, including this year's state Division II crown.
2011 STATE RESULTS
VARSITY: Keng Xiong (114-pound weight class), first place with state records in the squat (380 pounds), deadlift (395) and total (940); Danny Voelkel (114), second place; Zach Harenda (123), fifth place; Nate Stemo (132), sixth place; Ryan Lepkowski (148), first place with state records in the squat (500 pounds), bench (275) and total (1,235); Alex Dellis (165), second place; Robert Hansen (165), 12th place; Jake Coury (165), 26th place; Danny Wahl (181), eighth place; Justin Nawrocik (220), eighth place; Alex Hardy (220), second place; Jacob Hardy (242), fourth place; Nathan Marshall (242), first place with state records in the squat (710, also a new national mark) and total (1,595); Ulice Payne III (275-plus), second place.
GIRLS: Linnzy Gely (148), 15th place; Cassie Haas (198), sixth place.
2010 STATE: Xiong (114), Lepkowski (142), Sean Graham (181), Scott Erickson (275)
2009 STATE: Marshall (275)
VARSITY NATIONAL CHAMPION: Marshall (242) in 2010
JUNIOR VARSITY NATIONAL CHAMPS: 2010, Alex Hardy (220) and Jake Hardy (242); 2009: Marshall (275); 2008, Marshall (242) and Nick Vlahos (198).
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