When a coach tells his wrestlers that every point counts, he isn't just trying to motivate his athletes — he means it.
All one needs to do to see the proof is look at Box Elder's last few tournament results: a ½-point win (251-250.5 over Mountain Crest) at last weekend's Layton Invitational; only seven points separated a three-way battle at last season's state tournament (Payson won the 4A title at 236.5, Mountain Crest was second at 235 and Box Elder finished third at 229); and last season's region tournament where the Bees nipped Mountain Crest by 1½ points.
"We had talked about it before, how getting every point possible really can make or break your team," said Box Elder coach Mike Riplinger. "But after some of these tournaments, I think they are starting to believe me. The guys now know that they can determine us getting a win by getting that pin or major decision in the first round. They know there is no slacking off at any point, that they need to work every round of every match."
Box Elder will once again be one of the teams competing for the 4A state title, but besides having some tough teams out there competing for tournament and state titles, the state features some tremendous individual wrestlers once again. Here is a look at how the action should take place on the mats.
If it isn't Viewmont that hoists the state team title for the seventh time in 10 years, there is a pretty good chance it will be a team from Region 1. The northern region has crowned the champion 10 of 11 years, including an amazing eight straight. While Viewmont has been the catalyst for the dominance with five of the last six titles going to the Vikings, Weber won it in 2007, there is little doubt the best wrestling has taken place north of Salt Lake County the last several years. Last season's results speak for themselves as five of the top six teams in 5A came from Region 1.
"There is a sense of pride for our region," said Viewmont coach Brandon Ripplinger at last season's state tournament. "I think that we do kind of root for each other — a little anyway. I think it helps the guys when they get to the tournament because they have wrestled against some of the best all season, so when they meet tough kids at state, it is nothing new."
The region might not be quite as dominant this season as Viewmont still appears the team to beat, with Layton ranked No. 2, but Bingham, Pleasant Grove, Alta, Skyline and West Jordan have moved into the talk of winning a state title.
The classification also boasts two of the top individual wrestlers. Alta's Carson Kuhn is a two-time state champion, and the last two seasons he has been undefeated in the state. He made the U.S. National Team this past summer, one of only two high school wrestlers to earn that distinction, and is perhaps the heaviest favorite to repeat as champion.
Bingham's Cade Moss is a three-time title winner and aiming to join the rare company of four-time champs. Both Moss and Kuhn earned titles last weekend at the Layton Invitational.
The state title wasn't determined until after the championship matches last season, and it shouldn't be any different this season. And just like last February, it should be a three-team race.
"We are really happy with our squad right now," said Bees coach Mike Ripplinger. "We have nine guys back that placed last year, and I know that Payson is in the same boat with nine and Mountain Crest right behind with seven. It should be a tight, close race again."
Payson pulled away last year to claim its first title in 11 years with four individual title winners, three of which return in Mitch Brown, Zac Loveless and Colton Cannon. The Lions ended a three-year run at the top by Mountain Crest.
Box Elder hasn't been out of the top three finishers in the last six years, quite a feat for a school in the lower half of enrollment for 4A.
"I think it is the fact that we have a good junior development in place and good community support. We also have a lot of kids that are really willing to work at wrestling all year long," added Ripplinger. "To be a good wrestler, you can't just come in once the season starts, it takes a whole year of training."
The Bees should be right in contention once again as they return defending champions Daniel Crook and Cody Bunderson along with the other state-placers. The Bees, Lions and Mustangs will once again be the teams to beat with any other team joining the trio being a surprise, but schools such as Olympus, Uintah, Woods Cross, Spanish Fork, Lehi and Cyprus will be fighting for Top-6 finishes.
Delta proved itself to be not only the best team in the classification last season, but the top grapplers overall in the state. And now that the Rabbits have reached the summit, they are not in a hurry to leave it.
"We know how much work it takes to get to get to the top, so the kids are going to try to stay there," said Delta coach Josh Wright. "I think that once you achieve success, it kind of breeds more success. It helps to have guys see a kid win it all because they come back to the (practice) room and think, 'Hey, I can wrestle with him. I must not be that far away,' and they work that much harder to get themselves to that level."
Delta went 10-0 at the Ironman Duals and proved that it is still the team to beat this year as well. The Rabbits lost a good group of seniors from last year's 360-point scoring squad, but defending champs Derek Peterson, Justin Penn and Brendan Willoughby anchor a strong group of wrestlers.
"We have some good seniors again this year," added Wright. "I always tell the guys that the freshmen on the team are not going to win a state title, it is going to need to be the senior class that leads the team. They are going to determine how well a team does."
Delta may be clearly on top, but perennial power Wasatch is always going to be tough on the mats. Cedar, Hurricane, North Sanpete, Morgan and Bear River are also always tough in the classification and newcomer Juab has a strong wrestling tradition.
It may get old hearing about it, but when it comes to 2A wrestling, Millard is always the team to beat.
With four straight titles, and eight of the last nine, the Eagles don't appear to be moving from the podium anytime soon. They return nine state placers from last season, and recently were undefeated at the Ironman Duals.
"We have a team to compete, but have a lot of guys that are going to need to step up and replace those from last year," said Eagles coach Blake Turner.
South Summit gave Millard a good fight last year, and the Wildcats appear as the likely team to challenge once again. North Sevier, South Sevier and North Summit are the teams that could also make some noise.
While Monticello pulled away last year to claim the title, Altamont holds the top ranking this season. The Longhorns have Bryson Foy anchoring them as he tries to join the four-time state champion fraternity this season.
Monticello, Duchesne, Wayne and Rich round out the Top-5 rankings for the classification.
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