Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Wasatch High's Jake Salazar, shown throwing North Sanpete's Cody Bradley in February, leads the loaded Wasps. Salazar is ranked No. 4 nationally.

There are not many sports where the best team in the state does not come from the larger classifications, but that is exactly how it is in wrestling. Wasatch, with an enrollment that puts it in the 3A ranks, is once again the top team when it steps on the mats.

How does a smaller school continually dominate?

"The thing that makes us a good program is that it is a complete community effort," said Wasps coach Steve Sanderson. "We have a recreation program that has about 300 kids in it from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then another 90 or so kids in the junior high ranks. With that kind of involvement by everybody, by the time they get to the high school, we usually have about 35 wrestlers that have been wrestling for a long time and are ready to go out and keep up the strong tradition."

This year is no exception. Wasatch has one of the top wrestlers not only in the state but in the nation as well. Jake Salazar is a two-time state champion and ranked as high as No. 4 in the country by some publications.

"Jake is doing a nice job for us," said Sanderson. "He sets the pace in the room (practice facility), and the others have got to step up to keep up with him. It is also nice to see him sign with a national power like Michigan. The kids see that there are possibilities out there for them to get a scholarship."

Besides Salazar, the Wasps are loaded at several other weight classes as well.

Ethan Smith was a state champ in 2007 and has continued to look good so far on the season. Trevor Sweat took first at 103 pounds last year but is still adjusting to the jump to the 119-pound weight class.

"That is always a huge jump up," said Sanderson. "Trevor is working hard, though, and I am sure that by the end of the year he will be ready."

The Wasps also got some help for the team by a couple of new move-ins. Cole Shafer was a state champion last year while wrestling for Brighton, and Blake Mangum finished as a runner-up competing for Lone Peak.

While many say it is unfair that a team already rich with talent is aided by new additions, any claims of foul play are simply untrue, Sanderson says.

"All I know is that the parents moved to the valley and the kids had to apply through the UHSAA to make sure it was fine to wrestle here," said Sanderson. "Besides, if I could talk people into buying property here in Heber City at the prices it cost now, I am in the wrong business. We are happy to have them, but we just continue to work hard and prepare the kids the best that I know how."

The Wasps continue to be the best not only in 3A — where Uintah, Delta, Hurricane, Cedar and North Sanpete are a few other squads to keep an eye on — but in all of Utah. Here's a look at other classifications and their contenders:

5A

Weber is still the team to beat.

The Warriors graduated quite a few from their 2007 championship team, but no team appears to have as many quality wrestlers as Weber again this season. Of course, that doesn't mean that coach Jody Warren feels like his team should run away with the title.

"We should be competitive and place in the top five," he said. "As long as some of our underclassmen mature over the season, we will be all right."

Lew Woolsey is the lone returning individual state champ for the Warriors, but Dustin Martin, Logan Hubbar and Bracken Nipko all are back after finishing as runners-up a year ago.

Viewmont lost the crown after being on top for three years, but the Vikings and new coach Brandon Ripplinger are working hard to get back on top. With nationally ranked Nate Larsen leading the way, the Vikings will be back in the mix.

With the classification open like perhaps never before, there are plenty of other teams with championship aspirations: Bingham, Spanish Fork, Lone Peak and Layton.

4A

Mountain Crest is establishing itself as a dynasty. After taking home the 4A title the past two seasons, the Mustangs are again the team to beat.

"The Mustangs should be tough if they continue to work hard," said coach Davie Swenson. "We have 17 wrestlers that have qualified for state on the roster, and seven returning state placers. Our experience is key."

Led by the Lofthouse brothers Ethen and Raider, who both took state last season and have received All-American status, the Mustangs have plenty of talent. Jake Morrill, Jarrett Morill, Hayden Snow, Sioeli Fiefia and Corrick Knight all placed at last season's state tournament and are back to lead a tough squad into the season.

Springville has two returning state champions to lead the team. Jason Chamberlain is ranked No. 1 in the nation and should become a four-time champ this season, and Hayden Petersen is back to defend his crown. If wrestlers such as Caleb Christensen and Sebastian Lucero round into form, the Red Devils could contend.

A few other squads that could end Mountain Crest's reign are: Box Elder, Payson, Dixie and Pine View.

2A

Only one word comes to mind when speaking of 2A wrestling: Millard.

The Eagles have won eight of the past 10 team titles and are poised to do so again.

"We are still getting the guys ready," said coach Blake Turner even though his guys were still playing in the state football tournament. "Wrestling for Millard is a tradition, and the guys know they need to step it up to keep it up. The whole community gets involved, so you have to deliver."

It shouldn't be a problem delivering for this year's squad, with wrestlers such as Mason Stott and Sergio Pedroza leading the way. As always, Millard is the team to beat.

Juab, South Summit and North Sevier should be the teams closest in the chase after the Eagles.

1A

Wayne and Altamont have each won two titles in the past four seasons. There isn't any reason to think it will be any different this season. The Badgers and Longhorns always seem to put it together come state tournament time, and with the athletes they bring to the mat, expect it to be a two-team race once again.

Duchesne or Monticello may find a way to jump into the mix this year, and Milford and Rich could make some noise.


E-mail: [email protected]