For one weekend, Layton and Panguitch are the meccas of high school wrestling in Utah. On a simultaneous weekend, the schools host the first big tournaments of the season, and coaches flock to finally compare their kids to the rest of the state.

There weren't a ton of surprises at last weekend's meets, but everyone agrees the precedent was set for an exciting season.

CLASS 5A

No classification should be as exciting as the state's largest, and Viewmont is a big reason why.

The Vikings, whom coach Bart Thompson admit have many holes to fill, established themselves as the surprise early favorite after winning at Layton. Not only did Viewmont distance itself from the 5A field in the win, but it shocked 4A's Box Elder and 3A's Wasatch by less than three points.

"We have that big ol' target on our chest now," said Thompson. "I was thrilled with the overall performance of the kids, and particularly this early because the win gave us confidence to know we can compete against people in big tournaments."

Thompson can't stress enough the win's importance.

The last two years, Viewmont's state title dreams ended very premature. Throw in the fact the Vikings lost three wrestlers who placed in top three last year, and it's easy to see how confidence was a concern.

Viewmont didn't exactly overwhelm the field, only Ben Kjar won his weight, but the Vikings had 10 wrestlers place in the 14 weights.

"Layton wrestled out of their heads at our tournament," said Layton coach Mike Hansen. "We really compare ourselves to them."

Layton's bid for a three-peat didn't exactly begin as Hansen hoped. Aside for Josh and Zach Lamano, who placed first and second respectively, no other Layton wrestler finished in the top four. "We didn't look very good in that tournament," said Hansen. "We're hurting in three or four weights, but the core of our team has a lot of potential."

The race for the 5A crown is particularly intriguing because Layton is regarded as the fifth-best team. Mountain View, Brighton and Orem are all expected to contend.

"We have a bunch of good returning horses back, and anytime you have a good group of kids back you have a chance," said Brighton coach Ted Sierer.

Cam Jones and Robb Maxwell are Brighton's two returning state champs.

Orem is the only 5A team with three wrestlers ranked their respective weight in the preseason rankings, making them an interesting contender.

CLASS 4A

Forget just the classification, Box Elder might be the best team in the state.

Mike Ripplinger's squad returns two state champs, seven state placers and 11 wrestlers who qualified for state.

"We got a pretty good bunch of kids," said Ripplinger. "It's the best team I've ever had coming back on paper."

That's not good news for the 4A field, particularly considering how easily the Bees won it last year. They had their second-consecutive crown wrapped up before the championship matches even started.

Neither Ripplinger, nor his wrestlers, are spoiled by the success. For years the Bees always seemed to come up just short at state, only to regroup and see it happen again the following year.

"We worked real hard for quite a few years to get into the position we are at," said Ripplinger. "We have to work that much harder to stay away from everybody."

In addition to Caleb Hardy and Jeff Newby, both returning state champs, Travis Evans, Bryn Winward and Josh Anderson are all expected to compete for individual titles.

As good as the Bees look, Mountain Crest, Payson and Spanish Fork aren't going to concede anything. However, depth will likely be the key.

Payson might make it interesting because of outstanding wrestlers like Blake Jolley, Wes Hogan and Seth Wright. Mountain Crest is strong in the heavier weights with Jon Schroeder and Amos Fiefia.

CLASS 3A

Last year was a very special year for Wasatch wrestling — one that may never be duplicated. The Wasps won the ultra prestigious Reno Tournament, hardly broke a sweat in cruising to the state title, and was ranked nationally in the top five of all the major wrestling polls.

"It's easy to get caught up into comparisons to last year's team, but we're not the same team," said Wasatch coach Wade Discher.

The dropoff, however, is minimal meaning the state title goes through Heber City again.

Forget that Wasatch lost four state champions, it returns state champ Luke Francis and state placers Will Webster, Judd Sweat , David Gertsch, Jon Carlisle, Cody Bigelow and Danny Laneri. By no means is Discher faced with the daunting task of rebuilding a program.

"Everyone talked about how good our senior class was last year," said Discher. "It wasn't just because of the seniors that we won, it was because we had a great class of seniors and juniors."

Nonetheless, a state title won't be quite so easy this time around. Delta returns seven state placers from last year's second-place team, which includes state champion Chris Abbott.

Uintah returns two state champs, but probably doesn't have the depth to contend with Wasatch and Delta.

CLASS 2A

Tabbing either Millard or Juab as 2A's best seems trivial. Even though Millard might have the slight edge, when February rolls around these two might wage a duel decided in the last match of the tournament.

Tyler Teeples, Curtis Tuttle and McKinley Smith are returning state champs for Millard, and that's really why the Eagles have the upperhand. Of the six Millard wrestlers who took state last year, three return. Tanner Cowan, however, is the only returning state champ for Juab.

If the Wasps hope to repeat as 2A champs, they'll need important contribution from some inexperienced wrestlers.

Millard coach Marshall Sheriff likes what his team has back.

"I think we're pretty deep. We have some good kids on the JV team that can place at state," said Sheriff.

CLASS 1A

Wayne and Panguitch engaged in a drama rarely seen in state tournament wrestling, particularly in the lower classifications. The two teams duked it for two days only to see themselves deadlocked at 209 points in the end.

It's doubtful the drama will be duplicated.

Wayne returns for state champs and four other state placers, while Panguitch was hit hard by graduation with only two state placers returning.

"I'd rather have us ranked first," said Wayne coach Kerry Anderson, who is entering his 28th year as head coach. "I think it puts more pressure on us."

Unless Panguitch's rebuilding process is quick, it's likely that Altamont and Piute will be the teams competing with Wayne for the title in February.


E-MAIL: jedward@desnews.com