Dan PearsonBy Dan Pearson
For Positively Osceola

The Bulldogs are back on top of the county in weightlifting.

In one of the closest Orange Belt Conference championship meets in history, the Bulldogs won five of 10 weight classes and had two lifters go first and second in three weight classes to barely edge out 2021 champion Harmony, 79-77, in the Mar. 25 meet.

It is St. Cloud’s 19th OBC Championship in boys weightlifting since the conference started in 1991.

Julian Sykes was the star of the meet for St. Cloud. The 2020-21 Osceola News Gazette’s Athlete of the Year after a third place state finish last season, Sykes blew away the competition at 154-lbs. — successfully hitting his three attempts each in the clean-and-jerk and the bench. His 300-300-600 total was 125 pounds more than second place competitor Justin Isaraphanich from Harmony (240-235-475) and was 60 pounds heavier than his third place lift at state’s last year state championship in the same weight class (270-270-540).

In addition to Sykes, St. Cloud took first place finishes with Sebastian Pinero-Jirau (119-lb. weight class), Arthur Morales (135), Nathanael Combs (169) Noah Carr (199). Carr’s victory was one of the keys to St. Cloud’s team title as his lifts of 320-290-610 tied Harmony’s Tyler Montano identical lifts of 320-290-610, with Carr taking first place and the seven team points by virtue of having a lighter body weight than Montano (194.7 to 197.5). That two point swing played a huge role in the team championship race.

Harmony posted four champions at the OBC meet, including Isaac Balado (129-lb. weight class), Brayden Adams (183), Daniel Watson (219) Cayden Gayle (UNL). Balado’s winning lift of 275-205-480 was impressive as it won his weight class by 115 pounds over second place finisher Ayden McNulty of St. Cloud (185-180-365) and also would have won the next heavier weight class.

With the Bulldogs and Longhorns dominating boy’s weightlifting, only one other school posted a champion. Tohopekaliga’s Pete Rodriguez (280-265-545 ) edged Osceola’s Jamarus Brown (295-250-545) by body weight (231.6-237.7) to take the crown at 238.

Osceola finished third in the OBC meet with 26 points, Tohopekaliga was fourth with 22, Poinciana 5th at 8 and Celebration was sixth with five points.

In the separate snatch competition, St. Cloud posted five champions to outdistance Harmony (92-79) for the team title. Osceola, with two champions, was third with 32 points. Baldo (129), Watson (219) and Gayle (UNL) each picked up second title for the Longhorns; while Sykes (154), Combs (169) and Carr (199) where repeat winners for the Bulldogs. Other champions included Ty Hodge (119) and Ryan Clancy (183) for St. Cloud and Osceola’s Jody Salazar (139) and Brown (235).

Although it is a separate competition this year, the snatch is expected to eventually replace the bench press in high school lifting in the future to put the sport in line with Olympic style competition in the future.

One week later, St. Cloud also hosted the Class 3A, District 13 Championships. The Bulldogs once again edged Harmony (65-56) for the team title in the traditional clean-and-jerk/bench competition and also won the snatch team tile (75-53) over the Longhorns. Osceola was third in both competitions.

The script was similar in districts with Penigiro-Jirau (119), Morales (139), Sykes (154), and Combs (169) following their OBC wins with district titles for St. Cloud. Balado (129) and Gayle (UNL) repeated as district champs for Harmony. Rodriguez also repeated as champion at 238.

Sykes was once again impressive with a 305-305-610 lift, this time bettering second place Isaraphanich (250-240-490) by 120-lbs.

In the snatch competition, St. Cloud had six champions to Harmony’s three to claim the team title in that discipline, 75-53. Osceola (30) was third.

The top six lifters from each district class advances to this week’s regional meet, which St. Cloud will host the 3A, Region 4 competition on Friday. “We’re extremely excited about hosting regionals this week,” St. Cloud Head Coach Cory Aun said. “We are sending 19 of a possible 20 lifters to regionals and hopefully we can move a big contingent on to the state meet.”