Utah County has been a traditional hotbed for wrestling. Not just in the state but even on the national scale.
In the 1990s, Utah County schools won a combined 11 state titles in the 4A and 5A classifications, as Pleasant Grove brought home the gold seven times, Orem three times and Payson once.
But while the quality of individuals remains high in Utah County, the team championships have tapered off Utah County's only team championship came with back-to-back state titles by Spanish Fork in 2002 and 2003.
In 5A, it's extremely unrealistic to expect a team trophy to come from Utah County, as Region 1 juggernauts Weber and Viewmont, along with Bingham, are the likely contenders. Pleasant Grove is rebuilding, Lone Peak lost one of its top wrestlers and its head coach to Wasatch, and up-and-coming Spanish Fork is probably a year away from seriously contending for a trophy.However, in 4A, Springville and Payson have serious team-title aspirations. Region 5 powerhouses Mountain Crest and Box Elder will go into the season as the favorites, but the Red Devils and Lions will be nipping on their heels.
Many believe Payson might knock off Springville in Region 7 and might be a state-trophy contender. Last year, the Lions finished sixth in state but were hampered by some late-season injuries and a wrestler not making weight at region.
The Lions return much of their lineup, including two-time state-placer Jace Harmon, as well as returning state-placers Colton Cannon, CJ Ford, Tito Ortiz, McCade Ford, Tag Miller, Hesston Parkin, Norm Adams and Jeremiah Guzman. The Lions are a deep squad, especially in the middle weights, where Cannon will compete with Harmon and McCade Ford for varsity time.
Another top wrestler for Payson will be Brock Brown at 119 pounds. The sophomore recently went undefeated at the Millard Iron Man Duals.
Payson coach Chris Loveless isn't ready to declare the Lions the team to beat but acknowledges his team is very good.
"We've got a solid lineup," he said. "But Springville is tough. We don't know Tooele and Mountain View too well, but they will have some good wrestlers."
The Red Devils, who won the region last year and placed third at state, will be led by national superstar Jason Chamberlain. Chamberlain is the Junior National Champion both in freestyle and folkstyle wrestling and recently won the Layton Invitational after defeating a top wrestler from Bishop Lynch, Texas, who made a special trip just to meet the Red Devil star.
Chamberlain is ranked No. 1 at his weight nationally and will be going for his fourth state title and has lost just twice while currently compiling 155 victories. Chamberlain should have no problem beating in-state competition while competing in the 140- or 145-pound division.
However, the Red Devils return another state champion in Hayden Petersen, who will compete at 135 pounds. Caleb Christen recently won the Layton Invitational at 140 pounds and is a two-time returning state placer and may swap weights with Chamberlain as the season progresses.
Other top returning wrestlers for Springville will be returning state placers Steven Brown and Devin Bodily, along with state qualifier Sebastian Lucio. Freshmen Garritt Bradley and Austin Frazier are new editions that will raise eyebrows.
"I see ourselves as a building team this year," said Red Devil coach Justin Judkins. "We're real young this year, we'll have good depth but obviously not as many studs as last year."
The race for third place could be tight as Mountain View, Provo and Tooele boast some tough wrestlers. Tooele, coming up from 3A, will be led by returning finalist Daniel Goode, returning state placer Monte Schmalhaus along with state qualifier Zeb Hansen. The Buffaloes could be aided in the region tournament by their large JV team.
Mountain View has returning state placers in Bryce Florea, Jared Frederickson and Clay Frost. Provo will be led by returning state placers McClain Griffin and Shane Liechty but sophomore Likio Pope at 285 pounds, winner of the Davis tournament, figures to bring big points for the Bulldogs.Meanwhile, Orem hopes to return to the glory days as the Tigers hired former coach Robert Steele to help co-head coach John Coxson. The Tigers struggled last year but return state qualifiers Josh Willis and Zach Steele.
PREECE'S PREDICTIONS: 1. Payson 2. Springville 3. Tooele 4. Mountain View 5. Provo 6. Orem
PREECE'S TOP 10 WRESTLERS TO WATCH: 1. Jason Chamberlain, Springville; 2. Hayden Petersen, Springville; 3. Daniel Goode, Tooele; 4. Jace Harmon, Payson; 5. Clay Frost, Mountain View; 6. Caleb Christen, Springville; 7. Jake Frederickson, Mountain View; 8. McCade Ford, Payson; 9. Brock Brown, Payson; 10. Bryce Florea, Mountain View
BURNING QUESTIONS: Can a Region 7 team bring home a trophy at the state tournament? Will Chamberlain win the Senior Nationals?
There might not be a more wide-open region than Region 4, as five teams can make the claim as contenders, with Timpanogos being the odd team out.
Perennial power Pleasant Grove is in rebuilding mode but has tradition. American Fork is trying to show that it is ready to move up to the next level, and the Cavemen might just have the talent to pull it off. Lone Peak lost a key wrestler and replaces their longtime coach Lyle Mangum but have three stars to build around, while Lehi comes in with good credentials but that was in 4A. And Spanish Fork seems ready to assume dominance as the preseason favorite if its wrestlers can perform up to expectations.
With the depth and numbers to win Region 4, the Dons have a good mix of veterans and sharp younger wrestlers and are led by longtime coach David Clark. Spanish Fork was the surprise second-place team in region last year and hopes to go up a notch.
The Dons have always been known for their depth and quality JV wrestlers and will lean on this heavily. Spanish Fork has already shown its mettle by beating 3A powerhouse Delta 38-29 in a recent dual meet.
The Dons are led by returning state placers Rodney Cox, David Sorenson, Kyle Weight and Kaleb Ashworth and are backed up with state qualifiers Eric Kitchen and Tom Clark.
Cole Kelley, who runs Utah's top high school wresting Web page, www.rockymountainwrestling.com and assists at American Fork, sees a very competitive region but gives the edge to Spanish Fork.
"They (Dons) have a lot of young wrestlers coming back, and they'll be more experienced," he said. "They are a good team."
Lehi is moving up a class coming off a fourth-place finish in 4A last year. Though 4A has added some schools this year to strengthen itself, the classification was considered very weak last year, which makes the Pioneers a big question mark heading into their new region and classification.
Many believe that the Pioneers could contend for the Region 4 title and a top 5 placement at state. Cam Phillips, a returning state finalist, will lead the Pioneers. He will get support from returning state-placers Jacob Sasser and Dylan Stadel, along with Mike Demke.
Lone Peak has undergone some interesting changes. The Knights replaced their entire coaching staff, including Mangum, with former Knight two-time state finalist Kimball Cluff. Blake Mangum, the son of the former coach, is now wrestling at Wasatch.
Still, the Knights have perhaps three of the best wrestlers in the region. Two-time state champion Paul Johnson returns for the Knights and will seek a third state title at 130 pounds. Zane Mendenhall and Chase Stilson are returning state placers capable of earning big points for the Knights.
The American Fork Cavemen have been bolstered by move-in Michael Hortman, a state placer from Texas, who is likely to man the 140- or 145-pound weight class. Jason Day, at 285 pounds, is one of the best big men in the state, while Justin Ballantyne is a top lower-weight wrestler and returning state-qualifier.
Adding to the Cavemen depth will be returning state qualifier Jake Horan.
Pleasant Grove is the returning Region 4 champions but lost a lot of firepower due to graduation. Craig Young will be one of the key Viking wrestlers asked to step up. Young was junior varsity behind state champ Keola Goodman at 112 pounds but qualified for state and nearly placed in top six.
Other top Viking wrestlers are state qualifiers Alex Nicholes and Justin Olsen. However, it might be a lot to expect the Vikings to repeat as region champions.The Timberwolves, led by second-year coach Byron Tanner, will build around Michael Shurtliff and Tanner Prestwich.
PREECE'S PREDICTIONS: 1. Spanish Fork 2. Lehi 3. Lone Peak 4. American Fork 5. Pleasant Grove 6. Timpanogos
PREECE'S TOP 10 WRESTLERS TO WATCH: 1. Paul Johnson, Lone Peak; 2. Cam Phillips, Lehi; 3. Rodney Cox, Spanish Fork; 4. David Sorenson, Spanish Fork; 5. Zane Mendenhall, Lone Peak; 6. Jacob Sasse, Lehi; 7. Michael Hortman, American Fork; 8. Chase Stilson, Lone Peak; 9. Eric Weight, Spanish Fork; 10. Kaleb Ashworth, Spanish Fork
BURNING QUESTIONS: How will the loss of the Mangums (both coach and son) affect the Lone Peak program? How will Lehi compete in 5A and Region 4?
Top wrestling meets for 2007-08
Dec. 6 Tri-meet (Mountain View, Tooele and Pine View)
Dec. 11 Provo at Springville
Dec. 13 Lone Peak at Pleasant Grove
Dec. 13 Timpanogos at Spanish Fork
Dec. 13 Lehi at American Fork
Dec. 13 Provo at Orem
Dec. 19 Lone Peak at Spanish Fork
Jan. 8 North Sanpete at Spanish Fork
Jan. 10 Pleasant Grove at Lehi
Jan. 10 Mountain View at Payson
Jan. 16 Provo at Tooele
Jan. 17 Spanish Fork at American Fork
Jan. 17 Orem at Mountain View
Jan. 23 Mountain View at Provo
Jan. 24 Payson at Springville
Jan. 24 American Fork at Lone Peak
Dec. 7-8 Wasatch Duals
Dec. 7-8 4A State Duals, at Roy
Dec. 7-8 Clash of the Titans (Duals), at Olympus
Dec. 14-15 Viewmont Invitational
Dec. 14-15 Desert Storm, hosted by Dixie
Dec. 19- 20 Reno Tournament of Champions
Jan. 4-5 Jaguar Duals, at West Jordan
Jan. 5 Cavemen Duals, at American Fork
Jan. 5 Bruin Classic, at Mountain View
Jan. 11-12 Richardson Memorial, at Box Elder
Jan. 11-12 Tournament of Champions, at Uintah
Jan. 18-19 Rocky Mountain Rumble, at UVSC McKay Event Center
Jan. 25-26 Pine View Invitational
Jan. 25-26 5A State Duals, at Jordan
Jan. 25- 26 Winter Classic, at North Sanpete
Feb. 8 Region 4 Championships, at American Fork
Feb. 8 Region 7 Championships, at Orem