The high school wrestling season kicked off this past weekend with multiple meets across the state, highlighted as always by the Millard Iron Man and the Layton Invitational.
If those early meets are any indication, defending state champs Pleasant Grove, Maple Mountain, Delta, Millard and Altamont will all be very tough to beat this season.
Here's a class-by-class look at the upcoming wrestling season:
Defending state champion Pleasant Grove returns eight state placers, including individual champion Kyson Levin, and is definitely favored to win its third straight state title.
The big story in 5A, however, is the switch to divisional state tournament qualifying meets like in 3A and 2A.
Roughly 80 percent of the coaches were in favor of the switch, which serves two main purposes. First, it should help ensure that the top 16 individuals in each weight category qualify for state instead a handful of wrestlers from a weaker region diluting the field. Secondly, it increases the odds that the top two wrestlers in each weight don't meet in the semifinals.
Regardless of the format, Pleasant Grove is still the favorite.
"It's too early to tell. We haven't wrestled anyone in 5A yet; we'll find out how we are in a couple weeks," said Pleasant Grove coach Brock Moore.
Pleasant Grove's first tournament with fellow 5A schools won't be until the Rocky Mountain Rumble in January, but Viewmont coach Brandon Ripplinger said that with eight state placers, the Vikings are definitely the favorite.
"Anything can happen throughout the season, you always have that element to it. But year in and year out, the numbers don't lie too often. P.G. would be upset if they get beat with what they have back this year," said Ripplinger.
The Viewmont coach expects that his own team along with Layton, Alta and Fremont — and perhaps even Bingham — could make some noise near the top of 5A this year.
Along with Levin at 106 pounds, other returning state champs in 5A are Alta's Matt Findlay (113), Syracuse's Zane Rich (132) and Layton's Ken Astle (138).
Maple Mountain edged Box Elder by 16 points for last year's 4A state title.
If the opening weekend of the wrestling season is any indicator, expect another two-team race. Maple Mountain swept the Millard Iron Man with a perfect 10-0 record, while Box Elder dominated the Layton Invitational.
"I think the championship this year really will come down to us and Box Elder, but there are always teams that you cannot look past," said Maple Mountain assistant coach Jeff Roylance. "The overall level of wrestling has risen so much over the past few years that each weight class has several excellent wrestlers that can beat anyone on any given day."
Both Maple Mountain and Box Elder return three individual state champions and multiple other state placers.
Maple Mountain's returning champs are Britain Carter (113), Grant LaMont (138) and Jesse Carlisle (145). Box Elder's individual champs are Rasten Yeates (152), Nick Sorenson (160) and Breckin Gunter (195).
The only other individual champ from a different 4A school is Herriman's Chandler Strand (106).
Despite what figures to be a two-team race in 4A, multiple northern schools hope to gain ground on the top two. Mountain Crest and Logan are expected to be strong this year in Region 5, as will Clearfield in Region 6 after the Falcons won their first region title since 1993 last season.
It will be tough for those three, and even Box Elder, to dethrone Maple Mountain and its 11 returning state placers.
Without a returning state champ — and realistically any stars — not to mention a state tournament rule change, Delta coach Jason Thomas said his defending state champion Rabbits have their work cut out to repeat this year.
That's the goal, though.
"That's our plan. We're going to get back to the top using hard-working kids, kids that aren't necessarily superstars, that work hard," Thomas said.
Jose Garcia is the highest-placing Delta wrestler returning this year following a runner-up finish at 113 pounds last year.
Depth has often been a strength with Delta, but that will be negated this year. The administrators for 3A approved a rule change similar to 2A and 1A, which only allows a team to score points from one wrestler at each weight in the state tournament.
That bodes well for teams with more star power.
A year ago, Delta edged Payson by 11 points for the 3A title, and the team race should be tight again with Uintah and Wasatch in the mix.
Returning state champions in 3A are Cedar's Dusty Hone (113), Spanish Fork's Branson Ashworth (120), Payson's Jed Mellen (132), Hurricane's Zach Prince (152), Tooele's Zach Coffman (170) and Cedar's Cameron Williamson (195).
The day after his school hosted the Iron Man Duels this past weekend, Millard coach Blake Turner was stopped at a local store by a friend inquiring about the team's 7-3 record at the Duels and if this season was going to be a down year.
That's what happens when you've won 12 of the past 15 state titles in 2A — expectations go very high.
For the record, this definitely won't be a down year. Millard's three losses at the Duels were to 4A champion Maple Mountain, 5A champion Pleasant Grove and perennial 4A contender Mountain Crest.
With 60 kids out this year, including returning state champ Don E. Fullmer, Turner believes Millard has the depth to be a front-runner in 2A again.
"We're putting together a pretty good line-up. With some weigh-ins, we still have to put some things together, but it's looking good so far," said Turner, who added he has about a dozen state placers back.
Fullmer weighed 165 last year but won his state title at 182 pounds to help the team. This year he'll compete at 170 pounds. Other Millard wrestlers expected to compete for individual titles are Tim White, Nick Sorensen and Chase Kelly, runners-up a year ago. Rudy Alcala was a third-place finisher a year ago.
Other returning state champs are Manti's Kameron Fowles (113) and North Sevier's Brenden Sorenson (132).
North Sevier and Beaver finished second and third, respectively, to Millard last year, and Turner expects the two to be contenders again this season.
"I think Beaver is really doing some good things, they have big numbers and they're setting their expectations high. North Sevier has a number of placers back and they have a lot of studs on line-up," said Turner.
With 11 of 14 individual state champions back from last year, it figures to be a very competitive and exciting year in 1A wrestling this season.
Defending state champion Altamont accounts for five of those returning state champions and is the pretty clear-cut favorite to repeat in 1A this year.
"I really think it's going to be a tough year in 1A and everyone looks really good," said Altamont coach Cory Allred.2 comments on this story
The Longhorns are coming off a close second-place finish to North Sevier last weekend at the Panguitch tournament, and Allred was quick to point out they competed without kids in two weights because they didn't make weight.
Altamont's returning state champions are Brady Farnsworth (106), Chance Goodrich (145), Rylee Foy (160), Kyle Foy (170) and Altamont's Cassidy Smith (285).
Monticello finished second at state last year, and it returns state champions Brian Robinson (126), Cole Eldredge (123) and Austin Wilcox (182).
Other returning state champs are Panguitch's Cade Coles (120), Duchesne's Christian Mahan (152) and Wayne's Jared Alvey (195).