Cierra Crusoe didn’t look.
The Columbus High School sophomore powerlifter didn’t even glance at the board bearing the amount of weight she was about to bear in a critical lift in the MHSAA Class 5A north state championship meet Thursday at Lafayette High School.
Instead, Crusoe looked at Falcons coach Tyler Armistad, who hadn’t told Crusoe how much she was lifting in fear of getting in her head. Armistad jolted his heavyweight lifter in action with three simple words.
“Go lift it.”
That was all it took. Crusoe completed her lift to find she’d qualified for the Class 5A state tournament with a total lift of 775 pounds across three events: bench press, squat and deadlift. She’ll be competing on April 16 in Jackson for a chance at a state title.
“I’m hoping to win the whole thing, get a ring, everything — just hoping for the best,” Crusoe said.
Crusoe is one of six local MHSAA powerlifters who will be taking part in the championship event, which will be held at the Mississippi Coliseum. Girls will compete on April 16 with boys the following day.
“It felt great because some people don’t get to that point and some people don’t reach that level,” said New Hope junior Jeremiah Jefferson, who qualified in the Class 5A boys heavyweight division with his performance in Oxford.
Jefferson finished third in the north half with a total lift of 1,280 pounds. A standout on the Trojans’ offensive line, Jefferson stayed after football practice to put in extra powerlifting work, according to Seth Stillman, who coaches both sports.
“He works really, really hard at it,” Stillman said. “He’s a great football player, but he works his tail off in the weight room.”
Jefferson is one of four area football players to qualify for the state powerlifting tournament. Starkville junior Javalon Gandy and sophomore Eric Thomas punched their tickets in Class 6A’s 242-pound division, and West Point junior Chris Dean qualified in the 182-pound weight class in Class 5A. Gandy lifted 1,300 pounds, Thomas finished at 1,250, and Dean placed third with 1,150.
The Yellow Jackets also saw junior Michaela Baker qualify in the girls 165-pound weight class. Starkville girls powerlifting coach Mauriesa Blackwell said Baker improved her form and upped her maximum lift by 55 pounds to reach 590 pounds and book her berth in the state meet.
“Michaela has a very, very strong work ethic, and she is a very natural athlete,” Blackwell said. “I really enjoyed seeing her qualify because she’s an athlete who will push herself.”
Crusoe, too, has seen a lot of improvement from one year to the next. She upped her maximum by 10-15 pounds from districts March 3 to north half just more than a week later, and Armistad said he expects her to improve by the same margin by the time the state tournament rolls around.
“She’s gotten a lot stronger,” Armistad said. “I think she’s built a great amount of confidence — not only in her self-esteem but also regarding some of the abilities that she didn’t know that she had. I think she’s grown tremendously as an individual as well as a competitor.”
Crusoe also plays basketball and competes in shot put for the Falcons’ track and field team. While Columbus’ basketball season wrapped up in late February, Crusoe has remained busy in her efforts to stay fresh in both shot put and powerlifting. Her father, Carlos Crusoe Sr., said she’s practically always leaving one sport and heading for the other.
“She doesn’t want to be mediocre, so she tries to do the best she can in everything she does,” Crusoe Sr. said. “I’ve always told her to do the best she can, so she really tries to do what I’ve told her.”
Used to weightlifting from his high school days playing football for the Falcons, Crusoe Sr. said it was an “out-of-body experience” seeing his daughter compete in the sport as well. He’ll be there in Jackson next month as she goes for a state championship.
“I’m very proud of her to see her excel in sports or anything she wants to do,” Crusoe Sr. said.
Crusoe began powerlifting in the 2019-20 school year, but COVID-19 canceled the remainder of the season, including the state tournament. When Armistad put together his team — which currently consists of five girls and 10 boys — for the current season, he made sure Crusoe wanted to come back.
“Coach,” she told him, “I’m in.”
At New Hope, Jefferson too was in after failing to make the top five and qualify for state as a sophomore in his first year lifting competitively.
“When I knew that didn’t make it, I was like, ‘I’ve got to make it this year,'” he said. “‘I’ve got to.'”
Jefferson finished first in his weight class in the Region 1-5A tournament, held at Neshoba Central High School. Before the north state meet, he bowed his head and prayed, hoping he would qualify.
“I guess that prayer worked,” Jefferson said.
So did Jefferson’s own immense willpower — something shared by his fellow state qualifiers. Blackwell said Baker’s ability to accept coaching and her mental toughness pushed her up from sixth in north state from one year to the next.
“When she sets her mind to it, she can do it,” Blackwell said. “I’m excited to see what she can do at the state championship because I know that her numbers can go up even further.”