There are two aspects of winning a state wrestling tournament — star power and depth.
Star power simply refers to whether a program has those wrestlers that will penetrate to the state championship finals and score the maximum amount of points. Depth refers to the rest of the wrestlers and their ability to win matches in the consolation rounds bringing valuable points to their team’s success.
It’s always desirable to have both, but sometimes a particular program will be tilted one way or the other and that will be evident in the high school state wrestling tournaments that will be held at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday through Saturday.
Then the other big factor is just how tough the overall field of wrestlers is. If the field isn’t as tough, depth becomes a bigger part of determining the winner. If the field is stronger, those teams with more star power will do better.
In 6A, Pleasant Grove will come to the big tournament with 26 qualifiers. The chief challenger to dethrone the Vikings is Layton with just 17 qualifiers. That number could change as either team could have a wrestler get injured before the state meet, not make weight or be disqualified for a skin condition. Or perhaps, either program, and other teams as well, might get an additional qualifier(s) because their alternate could enter the tournament because of a disqualified wrestler. In essence, the number of state qualifiers for this article is likely to change and numbers reported are solely based on the top eight finishers from the divisional tournaments.
It’s not that Pleasant Grove is lacking in stars. The Vikings return five state finalists (Zeke Kelley at 126 pounds, Oakley Ridge at 138 pounds, Cole Zorn at 145, Jaxon Moore at 160 and Maika Tauteoli at 220). Tauteoli is actually going for his third state title while Zorn chases his second.
Out of the Vikings’ five returning finalists, Kelley and Ridge have the most difficult path based on how they finished at their divisional. Ridge was actually defeated by his teammate Talmage Woodhouse in the finals at divisionals while Kelley also fell to his teammate Michel Stock, in the semifinal round.
Meanwhile, Layton will rely on its stars and extremely high rankings of many of its wrestlers. While Viking fans might realistically expect three to five of their grapplers to make the championship finals, the Lancers could get as many as ten. Based on rankings or seeds, Layton should get nine and Pleasant Grove four, but then again, how you look on paper doesn’t guarantee anything under the pressure of the bright lights at the state tournament.
Layton does have Terrell Barraclough (138) and Tyson Humpherys (132) going for their fourth and third state titles respectively, and despite both fighting injuries for much of the season, they are as about as much of a sure thing as one gets in prep wrestling these days.
But the thing with relying on star power versus depth is if one of the stars gets upset, medically disqualified or injured, those big-time points go away. Layton has little room for error as Pleasant Grove overwhelms the field with 26 wrestlers. Having at least nine more wrestlers than Layton is a huge advantage as these wrestlers, even if they aren’t likely finalists or even placers, will score valuable points.
In regard to the battle for the third through eighth place spots in the team standings, again there is that star power vs. depth dimension. Syracuse, Fremont, Herriman and Westlake will rely more on depth while American Fork and Bingham have fewer qualifiers, but stand a good chance to have more finalists.
The Thunder do have one bonafide star in Jacob Finlinson, who brings in the only undefeated record to the 6A meet at 25-0. The sophomore seeks his second state title while Zach Warren (195) is also a contender. American Fork’s Dallan Hunsaker (106) hopes to become the next freshman sensation while his senior teammate Elijah Wilson (160) hopes to get to the top of the podium. Caveman grappler Nathan Bartholomew (120) hopes to challenge Finlinson.
Westlake head coach Cody Burdett has big expectations of his team.
“Our goal is to win the state tournament,” said the Thunder coach. “A lot would have to go our way and we would need to be mistake free, but it’s still possible.”
Star power and depth will, of course, play a role in the 5A meet, but strength of the field will also be a big determinant. Last year, the field of wrestlers just wasn’t tough enough and Viewmont’s overall depth and numbers overwhelmed Wasatch.
Box Elder stunned Wasatch at the 5A Divisional A meet at West High School two weekends ago, but fans should expect Wasatch, if the Wasp wrestlers compete up to expectations, to reclaim the 5A crown.
The field is stronger and Viewmont, with the opening of Farmington this year, lost some key grapplers to the new school. The team most likely to push Wasatch will be Box Elder.
At the divisional tournament, Box Elder nearly matched Wasatch with both champions and finalists as Box Elder had five champs and six finalists, and Wasatch had six champs and eight finalists. Box Elder brought five more wrestlers to the divisionals than Wasatch and ended up with two more placers (20 vs. 18). The math suggests that won’t be enough for the Bees to hold off the Wasps at the big tourney.
Timpanogos head coach Alex Nicholes definitely sees Wasatch as the team to beat.
“I feel Wasatch is the clear No. 1 for state,” Nicholes said. “They lost to Box Elder at divisionals, but when you hit that deeper bracket, Wasatch will get those big points from their studs and separate from Box Elder.”
However, Skyridge head coach Lyle Mangum isn’t quite ready to hand the gold trophy to Wasatch.
“I think there are five or six teams that could win in 5A,” Mangum stated.
Mangum feels that Wasatch, Viemwont, Maple Mountain, Box Elder and his team, Skyridge, all have a shot at the title.
“Our team goals are to compete for a state championship, wrestle to the best of our abilities and have fun while we are doing this,” the Falcon coach added.
Like Layton’s Barraclough, Wasatch’s Zak Kohler (145) is going for his fourth individual title while teammate Stockton O’Brien (138) goes for his third. Mitchell Slack (120) and River Wardle (126) go for their second titles while Porter Chamberlain, a silver medalist from last year, looks strong at 170 pounds. Chamberlain’s biggest challenge could come from Maple Mountain’s Zack Johnson.
The 120-pound weight class is simply loaded. Slack and teammate Deklan Kelly could meet for the state title, as they did at divisionals. But this weight also features Farmington’s Parker Frasure, a returning state champ that prepped for Viewmont last year, Maple Mountain’s Cooper Cox, a returning state placer and Divisional B champion, Skyridge’s Jayden Adamson, second in state last year, and Skyline’s James Monson, a returning state placer who beat both Frasure and Adamson at divisionals. This is one stacked weight class.
The 152-pound weight class also has some intrigue. Timpanogos’ Holland Knudsen, who has placed second in state the last two seasons, wants to get to the top in his senior campaign. But standing in his way is Viewmont’s Jeremy Evans, a returning state champion with just one loss. West’s Jack Lang is a two-time state placer and the Divisional A champ and has wrestled both Knudsen and Lang tough, while Woods Cross sophomore Christian Smoot is turning heads. Skyridge’s James Hornberger, a returning state placer, is also dangerous. And none of these guys should sleep on Andrew Jensen, a freshman sensation that grapples for Maple Mountain.
Provo has a legitimate contender in Jimmy Tomasi (285) who has lost just twice this year including a narrow 4-2 defeat to Box Elder’s Ryan Gunn, the top-ranked wrestler in this weight class. Serious individual 5A title contenders with Utah Valley ties also include Skyridge’s Josh Millward (113) and Maple Mountain’s Parker Gasser (182).
4A Tournament The 4A tournament looks to be very competitive. Last year, Mountain Crest won the tournament and has a great reputation of performing its best when it matters most. But on paper it appears Payson and Uintah are the teams to beat.
The overall field of wrestlers might make a bigger impact in this tournament. Unlike 5A and 6A favorites Wasatch and Layton, respectively, don’t look for either Payson or Uintah to have the number of finalists or champions as those schools. Individual wrestlers from a bevy of schools will have an impact on who will claim the gold trophy in 2019.
One interesting result could impact Payson quite a bit as Canyon View’s Brady Lowry, the prohibitive favorite at 152 pounds, placed third at his divisional in the quarterfinals and now will be on the same side of the bracket as Payson’s Tyler Knapp, the 152-pound champ from Divisional A. Meanwhile, Mountain View’s Jonathan Hyatt, the Divisional B champ, hopes to make the championship final from the other side of the bracket.
Randy Merkley (106) and Gavin Ayotte (132) are strong favorites to win titles for Uintah, while Payson doesn’t necessarily have a sure lock anywhere for a champion.
Cole Jensen (113) is a returning state champion for the Lions, but he will likely be pushed by Tooele’s Joseph Mecham to the brink as he was at the Divisional A tourney this past weekend. Tyson Carter (170) might be the closest thing to an outright prohibitive favorite for the Lions. Tucker Naccarato also looks very strong at 160 pounds as well, but Salem Hills’ Chyler Zeeman is undefeated and eager to reach the top of the podium, though he missed much of the season due to injury. And Zeeman must also get past Bear River’s Maverik Skinner, who lost to Naccarato by a slim 2-0 count at the divisional meet.
There are some potentially huge Lion vs. Ute matchups for the semifinals. One could be at 182 pounds as Payson’s Harrison Judd could meet Uintah’s Cade Hatch in the semifinal, the winner likely to meet Salem Hill’s Merrell Morley who wants to get to the top of the podium after a second place finish last year. And at 126 pounds, Payson’s Wyatt Hone will hope to get past Uintah’s Cub Deets, as will Lion teammate Brock Loveless who wants to take down Ute grappler Bridger Bennion at 145 pounds. Because of the depth advantage Payson has overall, Uintah might need all three of these possible match-ups to go its way to earn that elusive gold trophy.
Salem Hills head coach Phil Sorensen, who hopes to see his team finish in the top six, sees Payson as the team to beat because of its strength throughout its line-up.
“Clearly the teams to beat in 4A are Payson and Uintah. Each won their division by 100 plus points and qualified a ton of talented wrestlers,” related Sorensen. “I believe it really is Payson’s tournament to win because they most certainly will place a wrestler in almost every weight and can get big points in the upper weights where Uintah is running thin.”
Of course, a lot of Utah County wrestling fans are looking forward to a possible epic clash between big men Sam Dawe (Spanish Fork) and David Herring (Mountain View) at 285 pounds. Dawe has lost just once this season and beat Herring earlier in the season at the Skyhawk Showdown. However, Herring has beat Dawe before in past matches between these wrestling Goliaths.
Orem’s Cooper Legas (195) hopes to complete a perfect season as he goes into the tournament with a 28-0 record. The Tiger grappler is seeking his second straight 4A title at this weight class.
Juab is the heavy team favorite in 3A, but American Leadership Academy (ALA) is hoping to slide into a trophy position. Delta, South Sevier and Morgan stand in the way.
ALA will be led by returning state champion Quenton Mortimer (132). Lukus Carrillo (106) and Rhett Miner (126) won divisional titles for the Eagles. And all eyes will be on Quenton’s sister Sage (106), as she hopes to get back on the medal stand as she did last season as a freshman.
Congratulations are in order for Maeser Prep’s first-ever state qualifiers. Cody Wilkins (106), Adam Cottle (152) and Seth Leavitt (285) all placed in the top eight to make the 3A tournament.
The state tournament will be held at Utah Valley’s UCCU Event Center. The 5A and 6A tournament will be Wednesday and Thursday while the 3A and 4A state meet will be Friday and Saturday. Exact times for all the rounds, as well as bracketed results, can be found at www.uhsaa.org.