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Local wrestlers battle for opportunities at U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials

By Brian E. Preece - Herald correspondent | Apr 22, 2024
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ALA wrestler Sage Mortimer pins Maple Mountain wrestler Donna Wright in the finals of the 115-pound weight class during the 5A/3A/2A/1A state girls wrestling tournament at Mountain View High School in Orem on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. 

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UVU wrestler Taylor LaMont wrestles in the 125-pound weight class at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis on Saturday, March 20, 2021.

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Pleasant Grove junior Brooklyn Hays celebrates after she won the state title in the 145-pound weight class at the 6A state girls wrestling tournament in Saratoga Springs on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

Five wrestlers with local ties competed in the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials held in College Station, Pennsylvania this past weekend.

In women’s wrestling, Sage Mortimer (50 Kilograms), who prepped at American Leadership Academy, finished second in the challenger tournament.

Mortimer, the second seed in the challenger bracket, won her first two bouts in dominating fashion winning 10-2 and then by technical fall 16-6 before falling to Audrey Jimenez 10-6 in the final. It was the second time Mortimer has competed in the Olympic Trials as she competed in the 2020 trials as a high school senior.

Mortimer, who spent most of her career competing against the boys because the Utah High School Activities Association had not sanctioned girls wrestling yet, did win a state title in the inaugural girls state tournament. Mortimer was just the third Utah prep wrestler to place at state against the boys and is the only female wrestler to place at the USA Junior Nationals competing against male competitors.

2020 Olympian Sarah Hildebrandt ended up beating Jimenez in a best of three showdown so Mortimer is second alternate for the Olympic team that will compete in Paris.

Brooklyn Hays, who prepped at Pleasant Grove winning two state titles, placed third at 68 kilograms.

Hays was defeated in the quarterfinals by Reese Larramendy10-8 but then Hays fought back winning her next two bouts in the consolation bracket and avenged her earlier defeat to Larramendy, winning by technical fall to claim third place.

Former Springville standout Marlynne Deede went 1-2 at 76 kilograms winning her first match then losing her next two bouts. Deede helped Iowa win a national title in March when she became an individual champion.

In men’s wrestling, two former Utah Valley wrestlers competed in the Greco-Roman tournament.

Taylor LaMont, a former 4-time high school state champion at Maple Mountain who wrestled at UVU, and his Wolverine teammate Dylan Gregerson both competed at 60 kilograms.

Both LaMont and Gregerson were defeated in the quarterfinals. LaMont then won his first consolation match over Brady Koontz 5-2 while Gregerson had a bye. This set up a match-up between these former teammates and LaMont was able to pull out a close 8-6 victory.

But LaMont, a former NCAA All-American for Utah Valley, wasn’t done as he won his next match by injury default before falling to Max Black to finish fourth in this challenger bracket. This was LaMont’s second trip to the Olympic Trials.

The men’s freestyle tournament became somewhat of a soap opera but was dominated by the stable of wrestlers put together by former Wasatch 4-time state champion Cael Sanderson, who now is the head coach at Penn State.

Much of the drama centered around Jordan Burroughs, a 3-time Olympian and 2012 gold medalist. Burroughs also served as the color commentator at the most recent NCAA wrestling tournament and this is where one of his comments stirred up a hornet’s nest.

Penn State’s Carter Starocci won his fourth NCAA title after suffering a knee injury earlier in the season. Burroughs said he wouldn’t hesitate to go after Starocci’s injured leg if the two met up in the Olympic Trials which was just over a month away.

As fate would have it, Starocci and Burroughs competed in different weights but that didn’t end the feud between them.

During his challenger bracket at 74 kilograms, Burroughs defeated Starocci’s Nittany Lion teammate Mitchell Mesenbrink 8-3 in the semifinals. The match was chippy and Burroughs was booed by much of the crowd there to support their Penn State wrestlers. Starocci, who competed in the weight class above but was stopped in the quarterfinals, went on X, formerly Twitter, and tweeted out that he would have “spit in the face” of Burroughs.

Burroughs was then defeated by a former Penn State wrestler and former 3-time NCAA champion Jason Nolf in the challenger final, 3-0. As Burroughs left the competition floor, he was harassed by a fan that ensued in a verbal altercation. Nolf then was defeated by Kyle Dake, who was a 4-time NCAA champion at Cornell but now trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club two matches to zero. It will be Dake’s second Olympic games.

Burroughs is 35 and many thought he would retire if he didn’t make the Olympic team. But when defeated by Nolf, Burrough kept his wrestling shoes on rather than taking them off and putting them in the center of the mat which is customary for wrestlers announcing the end of their competing careers.

The most shocking upset of the trials came at 86 kilograms when Starocci’s teammate Aaron Brooks, who also won his fourth NCAA title in March, won the challenger tournament and then beat 2020 Olympic gold medalist David Taylor two bouts to zero to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Taylor was a 3-time NCAA champion at Penn State, another one of the great Nittany Lion grapplers trained by Sanderson and his staff.

Complete results can be found at the USA Wrestling website and www.trackwrestling.com.


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