When white appears on mountaintops, the butterflies begin for wrestlers across the state. Olympic, college, high school and youth wrestlers will take to the mat over the next few weeks.
Wrestling often happens in the shadows of the sports world, but Utah has thrived at wrestling’s highest levels. Cael Sanderson won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games, after which many thought he had hung up his wrestling shoes for coaching. However, Sanderson returned to the mat this year and defeated World Silver Medalist Jake Herbert to make the 2011 U.S. World Team. Sanderson finished fifth in the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
While it is uncertain whether Sanderson will compete for a shot at the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in London, it is certain he will be on the mat with his 2011 NCAA champions, the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Other Utah natives have competed at the highest levels, with four wrestlers in the three styles of world wrestling competition. Sanderson represented the United States in freestyle wrestling, Chaney Haight and Justin Ruiz represented the U.S. in Greco-Roman wrestling, and Brandon Ruiz won a World Championship in grappling.
"Utah is proving that they can compete with the best in the country, the young kids – 7 year olds, 13 year olds, 16 year olds – in this state should know and believe that it isn't just a pipe-dream,” said Craig LaMont, president of USA Wrestling Utah. “They can be the best."
Sanderson (Wasatch), Ben Kjar (Viewmont and UVU), Andrew Hochstrasser (Tooele) and Jason Chamberlain (Springville) have their hopes set on earning a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team for freestyle. Justin Ruiz (Taylorsville), Haight (Timpanogos), Kevin Hunter (Orem) and Bo Beckman (Pleasant Grove) have their sights set on earning a spot on the Greco-Roman team. Brandon Ruiz was a World Champion in grappling at the 2011 Grappling World Championships, but the style is not included in the Olympic Games. He has competed in Greco-Roman and may switch styles next year.
UVU will kick off its season with a tournament in Powell, Wyo., on Nov. 5. The Wolverines will return with a promising squad that included a top 20 recruiting class last year – Kjar was crowned UVU's first All-American in wrestling.
The high school season officially starts practice Nov. 7 with the first meets scheduled for Nov. 22. The question many are asking is which classification will be the toughest in the state. The 3A may have an edge with wrestling powers Payson and Uintah moving down to 3A to add to what many consider the two best wrestling powers in Delta and Wasatch.
Junior high and youth wrestling clubs are also getting started. The two largest youth clubs, Mettle Wrestling and Champions, are in north and south Utah County. Davis County's Crusher Club and Kingdom Klub will challenge the Utah County clubs at the Youth Super State Tournament in February.
As legendary wrestler Dan Gable said, "Once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy."