December 4, 2021

Braves become 5-Time GACA State Weightlifting Champs!

2019 GACA State Champion Heard County Braves Weightlifting Team at Jefferson County High School (Photo: Shane Lasseter)

(Louisville, GA) — Heard County High School athletes and fans traveled to Jefferson High School in Louisville, GA last Saturday where they captured the school’s fifth Class AA State Championship at the Lee Murray GACA State Weightlifting competition.

The Braves have remained as the team to beat at the state competition over the last decade winning the title in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 while earning a state runner-up finish in 2015 and 2017.

Leading the way for the Iron Braves were senior Zaylin Wood and sophomore Ashton Bonner — individual state title winners in their respective weight classes.

The annual Georgia Athletics Association event is broken down into 10 weight classes and scored based on the power clean and the bench press lifts. Individuals who place in the top six in each class score team points which determines the state champion.

This year the event was broken down a bit differently with all seven classifications competing against one another but still shaking out into a State Champion in each classification.

The Braves were ultimately the top team in all classifications, quite a feat for a small Class AA school. Hosts Jefferson County finished in second place in Class AA.

Zaylin Wood was the Georgia weightlifting all classification state champion in the 245+ weight class as well as the overall top weight total (785 pounds) at the entire meet with his Bench Press of 435 and an awesome 350 pound power clean with near perfect form. Wood’s previous personal best in the clean was 325 but he needed 350 to take the win over a strong competitor from Fitzgerald and was able to pull it off.

Ashton Bonner won his overall classification state crown in the 140 and under weight class with an impressive total of 470 pounds at a body weight of just 134. The sophomore powerhouse benched 225 and cleaned 245. Bonner will aim to be the first Brave since Tori Rogers to claim three straight titles as he competes as a junior next year and then as a senior.

One of the strongest lifters in the history of Heard High School, senior Jacob “Big Kountry” Stephens had another huge showing at the meet with a combined weight total of 740 pounds including a monster bench of 440 pounds and a power clean of 300 pounds.

Stephens is currently holds modern day school records in both the bench press (450 pounds) and the squat (620 pounds). The squat lift was eliminated from the GACA State Meet several years ago.

Brave strength coach Kyle Yates says Stephens is one of the most important factors in the Heard County weight program due to his leadership, dedication and positive attitude in the weight room on a daily basis.

Zaylin Wood with Major Lasseter (Photo: Shane Lasseter)

Ta Freeland holds the school record in the power clean at 365 pounds.

Other top six point finishers and state medal winners at Louisville Saturday included Aidan Byrd (4th place at 140U), Jakob Moon (5th place at 151-160), Michael Cheney (4th place at 191-205), and Andrew Leak (6th place at 191-205). Moon and Cheney each won medals for the second straight year.

Also competing at the state meet were area placers David Wilkins, Tae Gray, Tray Dunson, Duncan Googe, Alijah Huzzie, Riley Diedrich, Micaiah Austin, Sam Brown, Jaidan Cameron, and Kerry Scarborough.

“We knew we were facing an uphill battle this year and were going to have to be more aggressive and the kids just responded really well for us. We did the important math and Coach Tim Barron, Coach Shane Lasseter, and Coach Tyler Napier all did a great job of getting our kids prepared,” said Yates after the meet.

Coach Yates also pointed out one of the unsung heroes of the title win in senior Taylor Paris. She is a participant in a work program with the athletic department and spent a lot of time creating a “cheat” sheet by combining all of the numerous area results from around the state to help each Brave lifter know what marks they would need to reach to earn points.

To see videos and other photos from the meet visit Heard County Weightlifting on Twitter.

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