The look in an athlete’s eyes might provide more insight into the upcoming performance of a wrestler than in any other sport.
That’s particularly applicable at the state tournament, where the best of the best in each classification square off in intense, one-on-one battles where there is nowhere to hide.
In Thursday’s final day of the 6A state meet, there was something about the top Utah Valley grapplers that could be seen in their faces before they even stepped on the mat.
It was in the eyes of Pleasant Grove senior Maika Tauteoii as he stalked his opponent in the 220-pound championship mat, striking over and over again with the speed and grace of a pouncing lion on his way to his third consecutive title.
It was in the eyes of Viking senior Cole Zorn as he twisted and strained in his 145-pound contest, rolling to his second straight crown.
It was in the eyes of Westlake sophomore Jacob Finlinson as he turned a third-period deficit into a win via pin in the 120-pound title match.
It was in the eyes of American Fork senior Elijah Wilson as he stepped up to a huge challenge in the 160-pound championship and emerged with the stunning win.
And while it might not have been as visible as in the title contests, it was certainly in the eyes of the many Pleasant Grove wrestlers who scrapped and strained for every point in the consolation rounds, clinching the second straight 6A crown for the Vikings and the seventh state championship in eight years.
“They killed it,” Zorn said. “We came in as underdogs, so winning feels so good. We have a big motto and that’s pin to win. We work on it every day and take it seriously. We had an unbelievable number of pins and that was one of the reasons we won.”
While Zorn and Tauteoii may have been the only individual champs for Pleasant Grove, 16 total Viking wrestlers ended up placing to help rack up the 311.5 points the team had — 44 more than second-place Layton.
“Everyone needed to score because Layton has a strong team,” Pleasant Grove assistant coach Morgan Woodhouse said. “Everyone came through and got us a nice win.”
Zorn and Tauteoii both put up big numbers in their title matches.
Tauteoii said he wanted to wrap up his high school wrestling career in style.
“It was my last match, so I wanted to go with a bang,” he said. “It was really fun, I wasn’t as nervous. I was calm and that helped a lot.”
His 22-7 technical fall win over Herriman’s Mafi Mahuinga was a showcase of all of the athleticism and quickness the Viking senior could bring as he scored takedown after takedown.
Zorn may not have scored as many points at Tauteoii, but his 12-2 major-decision victory over Taylorsville’s Braden Hansen was just as impressive.
“I came off of winning last year in the state finals and it felt so good that I wanted to fee that again,” Zorn said. “I worked my tail off to get back. It was actually more exciting this year because I wasn’t wrestling one of my own teammates in the finals.”
Wilson and Finlinson faced intense competition and had to make big moves in the final period to get their state titles.
Wilson was going up against Pleasant Grove’s Jaxon Moore, a wrestler he had never beaten.
“I was with him for 15 minutes before the match started and when I looked in his eyes, I knew it was going to be a fight,” American Fork head coach Eric Spencer said. “He worked his guts out. He might be the hardest worker I’ve coached. He deserved it.”
Wilson came out aggressively from the first whistle, shooting in to get a takedown and a near-fall for a quick five-point lead.
“I normally wait and look to rebound, which sometimes makes me fall back into bad habits,” Wilson said. “I wanted to give it my all. It was the last match of my senior year so I gave it all I had.”
Moore bounced back, however, tying the match with a takedown late in the second period. It was Wilson, however, who moved in front with a couple of escapes, then secured the win with a takedown in the final seconds.
“There is no way to describe how it feels,” he said. “I’m just in awe. American Fork isn’t known for winning. I’ve never won. I worked so hard, gave my body and soul, and it feels so good to represent my team, my school and my family.”
Spencer said that he was overcome by the emotion when the final whistle blew and Wilson had the win.
“I had to leave,” he said. “I bawled like a baby. That’s American Fork’s fourth state champion in 30 years. It was awesome.”
Finlinson appeared to be in a little trouble in his 120-pound finals match against West Jordan’s Jeff Rogers as he was down by a point heading into the third period.
But the Westlake star said he was confident he could get that point by escaping from the down position.
“I can get out against any 120-pounder in the state,” he said. “Once I got away, I knew he was gassed. I just kept taking shots to take him down.”
When Finlinson got his chance, he made the most of it.
He got Rogers down, scored a 3-point near-fall, then put the match away by pinning his opponent.
“He’s a good wrestler and he was countering my moves,” the Thunder sophomore said. “I had to pin him to not give him another chance.”
Finlinson said winning his second straight state title and staying on track to go 4-for-4 at state seems almost surreal after where he started his wrestling career.
“I’ve been wrestling for 12 years now and I didn’t win a match in my first five years,” he said. “My parents asked if I wanted to keep doing it. But I’ve been up every morning at 6 a.m. at the latest, lifting and working out, and in wrestling you get out what you put into it.”
Finlinson was also part of the Westlake team that earned the 6A academic state title with a team GPA of 3.599.