OREM — There are more prestigious and competitive tournaments held during the wrestling season than what will take place inside the UCCU Center on the campus of Utah Valley University this week.
The Rumble Wrestling Tournament, aka the Rockwell Rumble, for one, not to mention the Vernal Tournament of Champions, the Reno Tournament of Champions or the Layton Invitational Tournament. Even the annual All-Star Duals have more of a cachet to them.
And yet, there is something different about the state tournament. It just means more.
“This is the tournament we work all year for,” Uintah head coach and former Ute standout Phillip Keddy explained.
Wrestlers from four classifications will descend upon Orem starting on Wednesday, continuing until Saturday,, with designs on winning state and earning a place for themselves and their teams in the annals of state history.
Defending champions like the Pleasant Grove Vikings, Wasatch Wasps, Payson Lions and Juab Wasps will look to repeat, or in the case of some three-peat or even four-peat, while challengers such as the Syracuse Titans, Box Elder Bees, Mountain Crest Mustangs and Morgan Trojans will hope to kick off their own dynastic runs.
No matter what happens, wrestling history will be made.
Here is a look at the upcoming wrestling state tournament for the 6A, 5A, 4A and 3A classifications. A schedule for the competition can be found at UHSAA.org.
For nearly a decade now the largest classification in the state of Utah has belonged to the Pleasant Grove Vikings. There was a blip in 2017 when the Layton Lancers took home the 5A state title, but in eight of the last nine years the Vikings have been state champions. As such, they are once again the odds-on favorites to take state.
“The elephant in the room is definitely PG,” Syracuse head coach Troy Brown said.
The Vikings boast some of the best wrestlers in Utah, none more so then senior Jake Richardson (170 pounds).
Considered the third-best wrestler in the state, irrespective of weight class, by WrestleUtah, Richardson has been a boon for Pleasant Grove since moving to the Beehive State from Pennsylvania.
“They got a gift from the wrestling gods with that move-in,” Brown said.
Richardson isn’t alone, though. The Vikings also boast returning state placers in Oakley Ridge (145) and Cannon Carlson (195), each of whom finished third in 2019, as well as some of 6A’s best in Jacob Carlson (106) and Drew Dennison (285). Pleasant Grove overwhelmed the competition last year with sheer numbers and will look to do so again this week.
Arguably the biggest challengers to another Pleasant Grove title are the Syracuse Titans. Preseason favorites, according to Utah Wrestling, the Titans have their fair share of strong wrestlers. Returning state placers Joshua Rassi (152), Tytan Smith (160) and Sutton Brown (113) lead the way.
“My team has had a lot of adversity and they have responded well in each case,” Brown said. “We are just excited and grateful to have this opportunity. I believe in my guys. They are battle tested and war ready!”
The Corner Canyon Chargers are additional would-be champions, with Brigham Bailey (120), Kam Moss (160), Kaden Westerlind (170) and Kade Carlson (285) at the head.
“Our guys have worked real hard to get better each week throughout the season,” Chargers’ head coach Jeff Eure said. “Hopefully we can be at our best this week.”
Other wrestlers to watch include American Fork’s Dallan Hunsaker (106), Layton’s Quade Smith (113), Aidan Harris (120) and Tyson Humphreys (138), West’s Drew Lang (126), Kolton Kammeyer (195) of Fremont, Mason Christiansen (182) of Bingham and Anthony Stockwell (220) of Westlake.
While the 6A classification appears to be somewhat of a David vs. Goliath tale, 5A is a completely different story, more akin to Ali versus Frazier.
The top of the classification includes two defending state champions, namely the Wasatch Wasps and the Payson Lions.
The Lions made the leap from 4A to 5A this season and while they entered the year behind the Wasps in Utah Wrestling’s projections, Payson enters the state tournament as a slight favorite after a dominant showing at divisionals.
Payson has been led all year by the duo of Cole Jensen (120) and Tucker Naccarato (170), both finalists a season ago — Jensen was a state champ in 2018 — not to mention Layne Shepherd (126) and Wyatt Hone (126), and Deagan Palmer (132).
Most of those, and some not listed, were a part of a team Payson head coach Jeb Clark described as “a good bunch of boys, some of the best I have had,” following last year’s state championship.
They’ll need to be that and more this week as Wasatch returns some of the best wrestlers in program history.
Leading the way is arguably the best wrestler in the state of Utah — Stockton O’Brien (145). The senior, who is headed to UVU after graduation, is a three-time state champion and the highest ranked Utahn on FloWrestling’s Recruiting Big Board.
He is joined by the other stalwarts in River Wardle (132) and Sammy Heywood (138), both of whom are two-time state champions.
Outside of that trio, though, Wasatch is largely young and untested, albeit rising.
“Every season is unique and this one has been no different,” Wasatch head coach Wade Discher said. “We have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. This year has been a year of growth, and we have taken some lumps and gone through learning curves. This group is coming of age at the right time and I love them because they fight. I am excited to see what they can do. I think we will see their best this week.”
If there is another team capable of claiming the state title, it is the Box Elder Bees, who should not be slept on. The Bees boast their own superstar in junior Lucas Cochran (182). Cochran is a defending state champion and is ranked second in the state by WrestleUtah. Then there is sophomore Bridger Ricks (113), a state champion in his own right, and Kellen Collier (285).
Other individuals to watch out for include Kyison Garcia (106) of Mountain Ridge, Austin Gillette (152) and Jacob Anderson (195) of Farmington, Viewmont’s Jeremy Evans (160) and Timpview’s Cael Richardson (220).
With the departure of Payson, a void opened at the top of the 4A classification this year. Most assumed it would be filled by the 2019 runner-up, the Uintah Utes.
The Utes have been one of the classification’s best teams this season and enter the tournament a legitimate title contender, but the moniker of favorite belongs to the Mountain Crest Mustangs. The Mustangs were fifth-place finishers in 2019, but that hasn’t stopped them from impressing all season long, whether it be in Reno, Layton or elsewhere.
Sophomore Gabe Sanders (138) is Mountain Crest’s only returning state champion, but state placers Terrell Lee (126), Hunter Schroeder (195) and Sam McMurray (220) have been excellent, along with Brayden Guthrie (182), Cooper Sanders (120) and Luke Schroeder (113), to name a few
“Mountain Crest has a really good team,” Keddy said.
A well-tested team hardened by a difficult schedule.
“We tried to put together a tough schedule and our kids have responded well to it,” Mountain Crest head coach Jay Tovey said. “We have had a pretty good season. There is always stuff to work on and things we need to be better at, but the kids have worked really hard in the practice room. We’re looking to peak this weekend and have fun.”
The Utes, for their part, hope to keep all the fun for themselves after coming up just short a season ago. Uintah is led by returning state placer sophomore Dillon Dick (132), as well as defending state champion Brady Merkley (126) and additional state placers in Raiden Harrison (113), Cole Huber (120), August Harrison (138) and Dylan Swift (170).
“We’ve had a very good season so far,” Keddy said. “I’m really proud of how this team works and competes every single week. They have really come a long way since the beginning of the season and they have been a really fun group to coach. I’m excited for the state tournament knowing Mountain Crest has a really good team. This is the tournament we work all year for.”
Additional wrestlers to keep an eye on include Bear River’s Trenton Ward (106) and Maverick Skinner (160), Desert Hills’ Ryker Boyce (145), Hurricane’s Joshua Armstrong (152) and Sky View’s Hunter Larson (220).
A season ago, the Juab Wasps established themselves as one of the best Utah high school wrestling programs in recent memory by winning a third consecutive state championship.
The title was won in a variety of ways, as the Wasps utilized both upper and underclassmen in a dominant showing. Juab was particularly effective in the semifinal round, where championships are so often won, and finished with three state champs and seven state placers.
“The truth of the matter is these tournaments are won in the semifinal round,” Juab head coach Joel Holman told the Deseret News. “That is where teams make separation. If you can punch a lot of guys into the finals, that is where a lot of the points are and that is how you can pull away.”
Pulling away has been par for the course for Juab this season. The Wasps are largely considered the best team in the state, regardless of classification, and by all appearances, championship No. 4 is on the way.
“Juab has not been challenged this season,” WrestleUtah explains in its Top 25 rankings. “They have a very good team with very few holes, excellent support from the community and three straight titles under their belt. Couple that with a physical style, intensity and solid fundamentals and the Wasps do not look to slow down anytime soon.”
Which is bad news for the rest of 3A and great news for Juab fans.
The Wasps are led by returning champions Channing Warner (138), Cade Bowring (152) and Shan Jackson (285), but also boast legitimate title contenders in Chase Ingram (145), Will Harmon (160), C. Rylan Watts (182) and, last but certainly not least, Blake Mangelson (220).
“We’ve had a good season and the kids are working hard,” said Holman. “We are excited for the opportunity to compete this weekend and we hope we can do great things.”
If there is a challenger for Juab, it is the Morgan Trojans. The Trojans dominated in the divisionals and have some studs of their own, headlined by two-time state champion Jarrett Jorgensen (126). Other returning Trojans who placed at state include William Korth (113), Blake Woolsey (113), Waylen Pentz (120), Jarron Campbell (132) and Spencer Belinski (145).
Among the additional wrestlers to watch are Richfield’s Dayson Torgerson (106), Grantsville’s Joseph Mecham (120), South Sevier’s Triston Fillmore (132) and Kemmer Jones (285) and Delta’s Tate Willoughby (170) and Jake Jackson (195).