Every wrestling season brings a new set of questions surrounding various aspects of the sport. We’re just over one week from the official high school season and although this season will be different and possibly weird, I’m excited to see the wrestlers of our state compete and have a sense of normalcy in their lives that young people across the country are yearning for. Let’s look at some storylines heading into the season
I wrote about the wrestlers contending for their fourth individual state titles, but wrestlers looking to accomplish this feat are always a big storyline coming into the season and have a big impact on their teams in more ways than just the scoreboard.
Juab has been an absolute force in the 3A division and the state as a whole for the last few years. They’re a big favorite to run away with another state title unless Morgan, Emery, or Delta has some tricks up their sleeves to derail the locomotive that is Juab Wrestling.
Wasatch is one of the most storied programs in Utah history. They won 5A last season in a back and forth affair with Payson. They graduated with a lot of fire power. It will be interesting to see how their upperclassmen step up and how they develop talent in the room.
The big school juggernaut Vikings don’t have many blemishes on their record at the state tournament. Much like Juab, they’re a heavy favorite in their division with some solid teams gunning for them but they may not have the depth to surpass PG.
This year, it’s looking like perennial top programs Uintah and Mountain Crest will once again be competing in a close one for gold in the 4A division. Mountain Crest has several returning placers (Sanders brothers, Terrell Lee, Easton Evans, Jordan Wakefield, and Brock Guthrie) and two impact freshman (Lincoln Lofthouse and Sam Schroeder) while on the other hand, Uintah has Raidan Harrison, Cole Huber, Brady Merkley, Dillon Dick, Josh Holmes as returning placers with the addition of impact freshman, Jaxon McCurdy and two solid move ins with Clayson Mele (Wyoming state champion) and Gage Houward (Colorado state qualifier) who will add additional firepower to their lineup.
Millard, Beaver, and Altamont all have solid teams. They are all well coached, they all have solid feeder programs, and they all have proven they can develop talent. I can’t remember the last time there was a division with three legitimate contenders. There are also some awesome storylines within this division. Beaver has never won a team title and they also have a wrestler looking to become a four-timer, Millard is a true dynasty that continues to produce fantastic, homegrown wrestlers, and Altamont has a legend coaching them with a lineup projected to have seven finalists.
Normally, a high percentage of the hottest freshman prospects are projected to compete at 106 and 113 in their maiden voyage into high school wrestling. This season, four of the top five incoming freshmen are heavier than 120. #1 Shurtleff, #2 Evans, #3 Smith, and #5 Rasmussen are all projected to be 126 or higher in the rankings. All of these wrestlers are talented, mentally tough, and experienced. I’m excited to see how they stack up with upperclassmen early in the season and how they develop throughout their campaigns.
My favorite thing about a new season is what techniques emerge as game changers for individuals and teams. Last season, everyone was loving roll through tilts and crossface cradles. I don’t have a crystal ball, but judging from what I saw at WNO and Super 32, it’s looking like thoughtful scrambling is going to become a common occurrence. What I mean by thoughtful scrambling is initiating scrambles and having a system to counter multiple reactions rather than just creating chaos and hoping to come out on top. A trend I also see happening is the emergence of more single leg finishes when the opponent looks to counter with a shin-whizzer like we saw when Drake Ayala competed against Richard Figueroa at WNO.
Lucas Cochran has committed to wrestle for the Air Force Academy, but this senior class has several wrestlers that can continue their careers at the collegiate level if they have the desire to do so.
River Wardle could be a D1 wrestler. He’s placed at Doc B and is going for his fourth state title. Jacob Finlinson is going for his fourth, has a unique style and had a good showing at Super 32. Quade Smith is as experienced as they come and is a fantastic mat wrestler. Kam Moss won the Freakshow and has continually improved through his high school career. Brian Evans from Beaver has a brother that wrestled in college and I hope to see him do the same. There’s others out there that I’m probably forgetting but we have a handful of talented wrestlers that could make an impact on college rosters at the D1, D2, D3, NJCAA, and NAIA levels. There’s a lot of opportunity to continue to wrestle after high school and I hope to see as many of our wrestlers find spots on rosters as possible so they can come back with that experience and new skills to help coach the next generation.
Yes, the COVID-19 outbreak has been front and center in the headlines since March. As much as I hate it, I realize that it’s going to play a role this season. Tournament sizes are reduced, school districts are handling it differently, and it impacts travel to events such as Reno for our wrestlers. Here’s the good news, wrestling has adapted well to the COVID era. USA Wrestling as a whole has shown that we can safely have wrestling tournaments. It’s going to be a unique season, but let’s just be grateful it’s happening and make the most of it and adjust as needed as though it's a wrestling match.