EARLY — Entering his fourth season as Early High School girls powerlifting coach, Josh Lehde has implemented a plan for success that may lead to a state title Saturday inside the Extraco Events Center in Waco.

In 2014, when Lehde took over the girls powerlifting team, the program seemed in disarray but during his tenure Lehde developed a team he believes is capable of bringing home a state championship.

“It had died off for a couple of years, dating back to the early 2000s,” Lehde said. “My first year here, I inherited two lifters and built it from there … This is the group I started with four years ago. I have two seniors and all of the juniors have been with me for three years. I knew we’d be scratching on the edge of dominance for the next few years and it’s finally showing up this year.”

Over time, and with the help of senior 132-pounder Hallie Brinson recruiting classmates, the Lady Horns developed into a team that took the Region 2 Division III team title in Temple, topping their nearest competitor by 22 points. With all seven of his lifters competing Saturday, Lehde is confident his team can compete for a title if they band together during crucial lifts.

“I can’t run these girls out of the weight room, no matter what I put on the board,” Lehde said. “Some days, they stay until 6 o’clock in the evening getting their workout in and they enjoy what they do.

“We need to do a better job of supporting each other during our lifts. A lot of times when we rally around each other at a particular time, our girls seem to out perform the other girls because of the intensity they bring.”

With Brinson, 97-pounder Katelyn Espinosa, 148-pounder Sydnee Shea and 165-pounder Allie Blassingame each taking first-place at regionals, the Lady Horns may pick up a few individual titles. Shae is ranked third in the 3A division by the Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association, but will need an overall improvement of 205 pounds to overcome top-ranked San Antonio Brooks Academy’s Nallely Gutierrez. Blassingame ranks seventh and will have to overcome top-ranked Catrina Soto of Skidmore-Tynan’s 1,015-pound lift total. Espinosa has the biggest hurdle all with Edinburg Idea College Prep Ashley Martinez’s 740-pound total.

While many other sports focus on technique at the end of the season because physical improvement is minimal, Brinson said powerlifting is much different.

“You can definitely get stronger,” Brinson said. “I feel stronger every week. When we come in here, we do 70 percent of our max and I can feel it move easier as the weeks go on.”

Brinson ranks second, and will have to add 65 pounds to catch up to Alessandra Ruiz of Diley. Last year, Brinson took seventh at state but suffered an injury in her first attempt during the final event.

“I pulled my quad on my opening deadlift,” Brinson said. “I cleared my opener, but I pulled my quad. It swelled really large and I could not go on. Before deadlift, I was sitting fourth. Then, I was pushed back to seventh. It motivated me a lot to take care of my quad. It motivated me to push harder on my squat, my bench and my deadlift so my total can come how higher than it was last year.”

Having participated at state before, Brinson said she feels mentally prepared when the clock strikes 8 p.m. Friday, signifying the opening-round.

“The state meet is definitely more intense, and quick,” Brinson said. “It moves quick and you have such a big audience. You’re in such a big arena and your heartbeat is going 1,000 miles an hour. The intensity helps you get lifts because your adrenaline is running. You see all of these amazing lifters around you and it pushes you harder.”