Ashwaubenon senior combines powerlifting and softball
By Rich Palzewic
ASHWAUBENON – Ashwaubenon High School softball coach Shannon VanLaanen said he’s coached numerous multi-sport athletes during his tenure but never a powerlifting/softball combo.
That was until current Ashwaubenon senior Liz Cleveland entered the powerlifting world in November of 2022.
“We push our girls to be multi-sport athletes,” VanLaanen said. “Liz’s combination of sports is unique – haven’t seen that one before.”
Cleveland was attending the high school powerlifting nationals in Myrtle Beach, S.C., when softball season began in March, so she didn’t travel with the team on its annual Florida spring break trip.
“We shut Liz down at the beginning of this season so she could worry about nationals,” VanLaanen said. “She missed the first few weeks with us but is back to playing now.”
Cleveland, who played catcher last season for the Jaguars but will mostly be a designated hitter (DH) this year, said she began playing softball at a young age.
“I started playing when I was four or five years old,” she said. “I don’t think most people think of powerlifters as softball players — most probably think of shot put (in track and field) or something else.”
Because Cleveland will be attending Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., on a powerlifting scholarship, she said her softball coaches agreed it would be best to switch her to DH.
“They’re trying to be conscious of my knees,” she said. “I can still contribute to the team in other ways.”
Besides hitting, one of Cleveland’s main roles is to keep the energy high in the dugout.
“Liz does a great job of that,” VanLaanen said. “You can pretty much hear her the entire game.”
Cleveland said everyone has a role on the team.
“Even if you’re on the bench, you have an equally important role,” she said. “We need to keep the team spirit high – cheering brings the team together.”
The Jaguars, members of the Fox River Classic Conference, are off to an 8-4 overall start.
The other half of Cleveland’s competitive fire is relatively new in her life.
“I’ve always been into lifting, but with Ashwaubenon not hosting a powerlifting squad, I found my way into the sport through my gym teacher,” she said. “From there, I found a coach.”
Cleveland works with trainer Chase Emnott — the owner of MindRight Performance and the strength and conditioning coach for the St. Norbert College men’s and women’s hockey teams.
“I’m on a linear program — I train five days a week,” Cleveland said. “Chaseindividualizes a program for me — I lift at the high school four days per week and meet with him once per week. We focus on one of the lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) each time I come in.”
Cleveland said she knew she was strong but didn’t know how she stacked up against the competition.
“I’m a competitor,” she said. “I didn’t know how strong other girls my age and size were — I wanted to see if I was good enough.”
That led Cleveland to enter competitions.
She competed at the Neenah Regional earlier this year and lifted a combined 1,000 pounds in the three events.
“I placed first in the 242-plus weight class,” Cleveland said. “Your highest (weight lifted) from each discipline is added to the others, and that’s your combined weight total.”
Cleveland squatted 415 pounds, benched 180 and deadlifted 405 to win the competition.
“My bench is probably on the lower side in competitions, but my squat and deadlift are usually the best,” she said.
From there, Cleveland competed at the state meet in Appleton.
“I did a combined 1,011 pounds and won the state championship,” she said. “After the state meet, I attended nationals.”
Cleveland came agonizingly close to winning a national title.
“I finished runner-up for the second straight year,” Cleveland said. “I was about 27 pounds away from winning a national title — it’s not much in the powerlifting world.”
Samantha Davis from Ohio won the 242-plus national championship for the second consecutive year.
“It’s bittersweet — you always say to yourself, ‘What if?’” Cleveland said. “(Samantha) is a nice girl, so I’m looking forward to competing against her in college — or hopefully as my teammate. Only 12 teams in the nation offer powerlifting scholarships.”
For now, Cleveland said she is continuing to lift and train, but also putting her focus on softball.
“I do some of my lifting in gym class at Ashwaubenon,” she said. “I’m not lifting as heavy now, so I’m maintaining what I have.”