OREM — Fire up the popcorn machines. Order the pizza pies. Grab some Milk Duds. (Maybe throw a few in the popcorn for a "chocobuttery" combination). And crack open an ice cold soda.
The mecca of Utah high school wrestling has arrived.
Throughout all five classifications — spanning 14 weight divisions ranging from 106-pounders to 285-pound heavyweights — 1,029 high school grapplers are vying to sketch their names into state championship immortality.
The 5A and 4A classifications commence Wednesday at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley with single-elimination matches beginning at noon on 10 separate mats.
On Thursday, quarterfinal action gets underway at noon before the championship finals start at 6:10 that night for the larger classifications.
The 3A, 2A and 1A meets begin Friday at 1 p.m. and continue Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
If you’re itching with anticipation and can hardly wait for the ultimate prep wrestling event of the year, here’s a guide of who to watch and what teams are expected to hang championship banners when all is said and done.
The Pleasant Grove Vikings are the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Utah wrestling world. The Vikings recently won their 28th wrestling title and are favored to win their third straight again this year behind sophomore Kyson Levin.
Levin, who won in 2012 as a freshman with his brother Korbin (a three-time individual medalist), said capturing four straight is the ultimate goal.
"It's always a competition in the house (on) who's better," said Kyson after the state tournament last year in reference to his brother. "My goal was to be a four-timer and he's only a three-timer. Hopefully I can get the next three years."
Viewmont, which finished second last season, along with Alta (3rd), Fremont (4th) and Layton (5th), are considered the programs with the best shot at knocking off the Vikings. All four finished in the top five in 2012.
The classification, after an 80 percent majority vote among coaches, revamped its qualifying procedures and tailored them toward the format 3A and 2A uses. It ensures the top 16 wrestlers in each weight division qualify by using two divisional meets instead of region meets, which allowed some wrestlers to sneak in through the cracks of weak regions. It also limits the occasions in which the top two wrestlers meet before the semifinals.
There are four returning state champions: PG’s Levin (106 pounds), Alta’s Matt Findlay (113 pounds), Syracuse’s Zane Rich (132 pounds) and Layton’s Ken Astle (138 pounds).
Rich was a sudden-death winner in 2012.
In horse racing — even in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — there are sometimes clear-cut, unquestionable favorites. There may be other talented horses in the field, but they simply don’t have a shot in the wind to take down the faster, stronger more athletic thoroughbreds.
For instance, in 1973, Secretariat — the eventual winner of all three stages of the Triple Crown — and Sham were the only horses that legitimately contended for the victory wreath.
That scene is very homogeneous to the scene in 4A this year. It’s Maple Mountain, Box Elder and 24 others.
“Not really to be honest,” said Maple Mountain coach Justin Judkins when asked if any teams could potentially surprise the state by upending the two traditional powerhouses. “Mountain Crest has a lot of really, really good kids, but their region proved out. I don’t think they’ll be over to overcome Box Elder or us. Mountain View is looking really good this year, and I think they qualified a lot of kids to state, but I still don’t think they come with the strength.”
The Golden Eagles, the defending state champions, have 11 placers returning, including three individual medalists: Britain Carter (113 pounds), Grant LaMont (138 pounds) and Jesse Carlisle (145 pounds).
Box Elder, after a dominating performance in the Region 5 championship meet, also returns three champions: Rasten Yeates (152 pounds), Nick Sorenson (160 pounds) and Breckin Gunter (195 pounds). The lone individual champion from a different 4A school is Herriman’s Chandler Strand (106 pounds).
“I think a lot of it comes down to the head-to-heads. I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of help from other teams when it comes to Box Elder,” Judkins said. “So, it’s going to be really important to win the head-to-heads. We’ve been at two tournaments (Box Elder) has been to this year and we wrestled once in a duel match with our varsity and their varsity and beat them. I fully expect to win those head-to-heads.”
Maple Mountain’s Carter is looking to join an elite company of four-time state champions. Judkins, who coached another four-timer, Jason Chamberlain, at Springville from 2005-08, said it would be “huge” and a “culmination of four years of a lot of hard work and a lot of matches.”
Similar to 5A, the 3A classification underwent a postseason format adjustment, which ironically affects defending champ Delta the most.
Throughout the years, Delta has dominated with its never-ending depth comparative to its competition as wrestlers accumulated points placing second through sixth. That no longer will play dividends with a rule change that only accounts for points by one wrestler per team per weight division. The subtle change will greatly favor teams with medal contenders.
Accordingly, Delta, Payson, Uintah and Wasatch are considered the main contenders for the team championship.
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).
Prince is trying to win his fourth individual championship.
With Don E. Fuller, potentially the best wrestler in 2A, back again it’s hard to imagine Millard not being the obvious front-runner this season.
The Eagles have won 12 of 15 state championships and have proved throughout state meets they’re stacked once again.
North Sevier and Beaver are the strongest competition.
Other returning individual champs with Fullmer are: Manti’s Kameron Fowles (113) and North Sevier’s Brenden Sorenson (132).
With 11 of the 14 individual state champions returning from 2012, 1A should be extremely intriguing.
Defending state champion Altamont has five of the 11 champions suiting up and is the favorite to repeat.
The Longhorns’ returning state champions are Brady Farnsworth (106), Chance Goodrich (145), Rylee Foy (160), Kyle Foy (170) and Cassidy Smith (285).
Kyle Foy is trying to win his fourth championship.
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).