It is all about stepping up in the big moments and this weekend is the biggest moment. —Syracuse head coach Troy Brown
Wrestlers from across the state will converge at UVU and the Sevier Valley Center this week, in hopes of winning state championships.
With the sincerest of apologies to the Bingham Miners, Herriman Mustangs, Fremont Silver Wolves and more, each of whom boast elite wrestlers like Cole Moody, Dylan Chavez and Kegan Leatherow, to name a few, the 6A state title is a three-horse race.
And what a race it is.
Between the defending champion Layton Lancers, the perennial favorite Pleasant Grove Vikings and the always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Syracuse Titans, the 6A state tournament promises to be a great season-ending competition.
The trio qualified a combined 59 wrestlers last weekend at the Divisional meets, 11 of whom were individual champs.
Among those were superstars Maika Tauteoli (Pleasant Grove), Terrell Barraclough (Layton) and Tucker Bartels (Syracuse).
That combination of depth and stardom is essential for a state championship run, and it is a mixture that each of the three schools possess.
“To win 6A you have to have both (depth and elite talent),” Syracuse head coach Troy Brown said. “You have to have those sure points. Layton has those, with Barraclough and (Tyson) Humphreys. (Pleasant Grove) has those kids as well.”
“Bartels, Mitch Parker and Bridger Ostler are guys who can get it done (for us),” added Brown. “If the other guys stay right with them we will be in the mix.”
The thing that will ultimately set one of the three title contenders apart will be the wrestler's respective abilities to perform at their best under extreme pressure.
“For a lot of these kids (the state tournament) is the culminating event (of their wrestling careers),” said Brown. “Some of them will never wrestle again. That pressure can be a game-changer. It is all about stepping up in the big moments and this weekend is the biggest moment.”
Other wrestlers who are very much in contention for individual titles include, but are not limited to, Brady Briskey (Weber), Connor Sandstrom (American Fork), Izaya Valdez (Westlake) and Braden Henson (Taylorsville).
True competitors rise to the challenge in front of them, and nowhere has that fact been more readily apparent than the 5A classification of wrestling.
Entering the season, one team was far and away the best, the Wasatch Wasps. Coming off their third straight state championship, the Wasps were rightfully considered the best team in the state.
And yet, entering the 5A state tournament, a clear group of legitimate challengers has appeared, headlined by the Viewmont Vikings.
The Vikings easily and convincingly won the Divisional B qualifying meet held in Sandy this past weekend, qualifying 21 total wrestlers. Not only that, Viewmont qualified a wrestler at every single weight class, save 113 pounds, with six Vikings coming away with an individual title.
Among those were stalwarts like Parker Frasure (106), whom Vikings head coach Brandon Ripplinger said, “is looking great, he is looking dominant,” and Taylor Money (195).
“We’ve got a really good mix of kids,” said Ripplinger. “We have a lot of guys that the goal is to be a state champion and they are capable of it. 5A has great teams, but our kids have been tested week in and week out. We are capable (of winning the title).”
Other challengers to the Wasps' throne include the Maple Mountain Golden Eagles, who finished second to Wasatch in the Divisional A qualifying meet.
Leading the way was been Zackary Johnson (170), Brandyn Van Tassell (182) and Wade Bastian (220), the elite in a group of 15 Golden Eagles who qualified.
Then there is Box Elder, who boast arguably the best wrestler in the state in Brock Hardy (145).
The Bees finished second to Vermont in Division B and qualified 17 wrestlers.
Through it all, however, the Wasps remain the favorite.
“They have potentially five or six state champs, if not more,” Ripplinger said of Wasatch. “The state title goes through them.”
The Wasps were excellent in Division A, beating Maple Mountain by almost 100 points and qualifying 21 wrestlers.
They are led by their seven individual champs, including Stockton O’Brien (132) and Zak Kohler (138).
“Our guys are wrestling better and better,” said Wasatch head coach Wade Discher. “They are sharp and finishing matches very well. They are doing those things that you need to do to have success in the state tournament. Right now it is just a matter of them feeling good physically and being in a good place emotionally. I think they are kind of figuring that out.”
Fans of 4A wrestling have already been treated to some excellent and competitive wrestling as the season comes to a close, thanks to the Mountain Crest Mustangs and the Payson Lions. The pair of heavyweights duked it out at the Divisional B qualifying meet, where a power outage failed to stop the competition.
The Mustangs emerged the better from that contest, qualifying 19 wrestlers, including six individual champions in the process. Leading the way were Mountain Crest stalwarts Eli Wells and Tanner Lofthouse, who were the champs at 285 and 160 pounds, respectively.
The Lions weren’t too shabby themselves, however, qualifying 20 of their own for the state tournament, including Wyatt Monroe (182) and Wyatt Hone (120).
Both teams will have to be at their best this weekend if they want to take home the state title, not only because of their fellow Divisional B participants, but also because of the Uintah Utes.
The Utes won the Divisional A meet, rather convincingly, and boast as much if not more talent than any school in the state, classification notwithstanding.
Foremost among that group, a group of 20 qualified wrestlers, is Gavin Ayotte. Ayotte is one of the state’s elite wrestlers and the clear favorite at 120.
“Gavin is just a natural,” said Uintah head coach Gregg Stensgard. “He is strong, very athletic, and has great technique. It is going to be hard for someone to beat him.”
Aside from Ayotte, the Utes have potential individual state champs in Cole Huber (106), Josh Holmes (113), August Harrison (132) and Blake Alsip (220).
“We are wrestling at a really high level right now. We have an unbelievable coaching staff and we have a really good team. We are in good shape,” said Stensgard. “I feel very confident. We have a pretty good chance of winning the state championship.”
Prior to the season, the defending 3A state champion Juab Wasps weren’t favored to repeat. In fact, they weren’t even picked to finish as the runners-up.
The Wasps instead were expected to come in third place in the classification behind Delta and Morgan.
After the Divisional qualifying meets, held in Richfield, it is fairly safe to say the Wasps will finish no lower than second in the state tournament, however.
Juab handily defeated the competition in Division B, behind the efforts of seven individual title winners and 17 qualifiers.
Leading the charge for the defending champs were Gentry Warner, a two-time state champion whom head coach Joel Holman noted, “will hopefully get it done this year,” and Joey Aagard, among others.
“Joey took state two years and is a two-time finalist,” said Holman. “He should be in the thick of it.”
In the other division were the perennial powerhouse Delta Rabbits and they showed just why that moniker still applies, despite the move up in classification.
Delta handled South Summit, among others, in Division A, qualified 18 wrestlers and finished with five individual champions, headlined by Brandon Atkinson (195), Tanner Shields (170) and Jake Jackson (152)
As a result, the 3A state tournament looks likely to be a showdown between the Wasps and Rabbits.
“Delta, obviously won (2A) last year and we won it last year,” said Holman. “They are kind of a storied program with a long tradition and a big name, but we have a pretty well-balanced team ourselves, every weight is respectable. We just want to take state.”
Despite the dominance of Delta and Juab, Morgan and South Summit, considered two of the top four teams in 3A, will have their opportunities with 14 qualifiers apiece.
If the Divisional qualifying meets that took place over the weekend are any indication, the 2A state tournament will be a doozy. After all, at least four teams have a legitimate shot at the state title, though six certainly isn’t outside of the realm of possibility.
“Once Delta left everybody realized that there was a void. There was a power grab for who was going to fill that first place spot,” said North Summit head coach Jalan Anson.
Of the group, Millard and North Sevier might have the best claims, having come away victorious at their respective Divisional meets.
The Eagles triumphed over North Summit and Duchesne, but, evidence to the parity in the classification, a mere 20 points was all that separated Millard from the second-place Braves.
“We know that Millard is a tough team, but we have one of the best teams we have ever had,” said Anson. “Nothing is a gimme and we have to work for it, but we know we are good enough that we can beat Millard.”
North Summit in fact out-qualified Millard, putting 27 wrestlers into the state tournament compared to 25 for the Eagles. Millard did hold in the edge in individual champs, led by Van Bray (120), Hayden Anderson (132), Calun Whitaker (220) and Christopher DeGraffenried (285).
The Wolves meanwhile, took down Altamont and Beaver, again with few points being the difference, and qualified 23 wrestlers in the process.
Shawn (138) and Tanner Sorensen (220), and Mac Peterson (182) all claimed individual titles for North Sevier as well.
Altamont, the defending 1A champ, qualified 20 wrestlers in its second-place finish, while Beaver had four individual champs.
“Millard has a great team, same thing with Altamont, North Sevier, even Beaver,” said Anson. “There is blood in the water, we are all swarming to it and everybody knows it. Everybody knows everyone is good and (that) they are good too.”
Heading into the season it was Monticello, a significant gap, and then everyone else in the 1A classification. Simply put, the Buckaroos boasted more talent and depth than any other school.
“(Monticello) has good solid kids,” Panguitch head coach Colin Marshall said. “They have excellent technique under their belts and they have some depth on their team as well. In 1A it is difficult to get that depth, but Monticello seems to have it. They have some incredible athletes and a long history of doing well.”
The Buckaroos convincingly won the Divisional A qualifying meet, qualifying 20 wrestlers, including star Zac Musselman, for the state tournament. Throw in 10 individual winners, out of 14 weights, and Monticello remains the far and away favorite to claim the state title.
Challengers have emerged, however, notably the Wayne Badgers and the Panguitch Bobcats.
Panguitch won the Divisional B qualifying meet, advancing 19 wrestlers to this week’s proceedings at UVU.
“We are wrestling really well,” said Marshall. “We had a great divisional tournament and I think some of my younger kids are starting to peak at the right time”
One of those kids is freshman Porter Schoppe, a wrestler Marshall believes is as good as any at 106 pounds.
“It is fun to see a freshman do so well. His biggest competition is another freshman (Jax Westwood, Piute) and that has been a battle all year.”
The Badgers meanwhile finished second to Monticello in the Divisional A meet, but still managed to qualify their fair share of wrestlers.
“Wayne is wrestling really well,” said Marshall. “There are some tough teams. We expect to wrestle some real good teams.”