Starting on Wednesday, Utah Valley’s UCCU Event Center will be hosting hundreds of wrestlers dreaming of becoming state champions and placers.
The 5A/6A meet will get underway Wednesday and conclude Thursday while the 3A/4A tourney goes Friday and Saturday.
Most of the local teams compete in 5A and 6A so here’s a breakdown of some things to watch in each tournament.
What to Look for in 5A
Payson and Wasatch are ahead of the class in 5A and will battle it out for the title. The general belief is that it will be a battle of Payson’s depth versus Wasatch’s star power. But in reality both possess a good deal of both. Payson qualified 22 wrestlers to the state meet while Wasatch will send 18. Wasatch has three wrestlers that won state titles last year and five returning finalists, while Payson’s Cole Jensen (120 pounds) won a state title in 2018.
Flip a coin as to who is the favorite at 126 pounds between Lion grapplers Layne Shepherd and Austin Hone. Shepherd placed third last year in state wrestling for Spanish Fork while Hone was a runner-up last season for the Lions. Hone and Shepherd finished one and two at the Divisional B tournament.
Both Payson and Wasatch have beaten each other in dual meet competition with the Lions owning the latest victory. Both have seen each other in four different tournaments. Wasatch generally does better in the tougher tournaments because it does in reality have more elite-level wrestlers. But keep in mind the state tournament is a different animal. It has a much weaker field than what these two teams see in most every weekend invitational they enter. And unlike these other tournaments, all wrestlers, not just 14, can score points for their team. That’s where those four extra wrestlers and Payson’s overall depth could be the difference.
And could Mountain View finish off an incredible season where the Bruins went 24-1 dual meets by being the best of the rest?
Wasatch’s “Murderer’s Row”: In the 1920’s, the New York Yankees middle of the order featured fearsome sluggers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and was nicknamed Murderer’s Row by the media. Wasatch has the Utah prep wrestling version of this with wrestlers River Wardle (132), Sammy Heywood (138) and Stockton O’Brien (145) who have combined to win seven individual state titles. O’Brien is going for his fourth state title while senior Heywood and junior Wardle seek their third. Setting up this possible trio of finalists for the Wasps is Deklan Kelly (120), who placed second in state last year.
Injuries and bracket disruption: The 170-pound weight class actually features three returning state finalists from three different classifications.
Wasatch’s Brock Lloyd placed second in 5A state last year at 160 pounds and Payson’s Tucker Naccarato did the same but in 4A. Mountain Ridge’s Mark Rausch actually won the 6A 152-pound title last season wrestling for Herriman. But the health of Naccarato and Rausch is a bit unclear. Naccarato suffered a leg injury at the all-star dual and didn’t compete until the divisional tournament. After losing his semifinal by medical forfeit, the Lion grappler defaulted to sixth. Rausch also was injured at the divisional tournament and placed fifth. Rausch and Lloyd could meet in the quarterfinals. This weight also features returning state placer Radi Stafford of Mountain View and Timpview’s dangerous Chase Biggs, the runner-up to Lloyd at the Divisional A tourney. Biggs could meet Naccarato in the quarterfinals with Maple Mountain’s Andrew Jensen, a returning state placer and the Divisional B champion, likely waiting for the winner in the semifinals.
Loaded Weight Classes: Usually you aren’t talking about the upper weight divisions when you talk about some of the thickest weights competitively. But the 195 and 220 pound weight classes are those exceptions.
At 195 pounds, Timpanogos’ Elijah Kratzer might be the favorite but he’ll have to navigate a weight class bunched with quality and experienced competitors. Woods Cross’ Christian Smoot and Farmington’s Jacob Anderson both placed in state last season as did Highland’s Paul Clark and Skyline’s Jake Walker. Timpview’s athletic Isaac Nelson has come back from a leg injury and could be a factor as well. But even though he didn’t place in state last season, the wrestler to beat could arguably be Payson’s Louis Williams, who dominated the field to win the Divisional A tournament. Kratzer and Anderson are in the same quarter of the bracket while Nelson and Walker meet up in the very first round where Williams will likely be waiting for the winner.
The 220-pound weight class features three returning state placers. Timpview’s Cael Richardson, East’s Sau Tafisi and Timpanogos’ Breyden Jorgensen were third, fourth and fifth respectively in the state last season in this weight class. But Mountain View’s Christopher Esparza has beat Jorgensen twice this season and Lehi’s Harrington Ray won the Divisional B tournament and placed at the very tough Reno Tournament of Champions.
The 132-pound weight class appears to be the deepest and features a returning two-time champ in Wasatch’s Wardle, a returning state champion from two seasons ago in Farmington’s Parker Frasure, a 2-time returning state placer in Maple Mountain’s Cooper Cox, and a returning 4A state finalist in Payson’s Deegan Palmer. Add in returning state placers in Viewmont’s Karson Rees and Wasatch’s Noah Roylance for good measure. And since Wardle lost to his teammate Roylance at the Divisional tournament to finish third and second respectively, the two are likely to battle in the quarterfinals with Payson’s Palmer likely to be there waiting as their semifinal opponent.
Returning state champions in the 5A field: Box Elder’s Bridger Ricks (113), Payson’s Cole Jensen (120)*, Farmington’s Parker Frasure (132)*, Wasatch’s River Wardle (132), Wasatch’s Sammy Heywood (138), Wasatch’s Stockton O’Brien (145), Mountain Ridge’s Mark Rausch (170), Box Elder’s Lucas Cochran (182), Provo’s Jimmy Tomasi (285).
*Won State Championships in 2018
What to Look for in 6A
Viking Dominance likely to continue: Pleasant Grove won eight state titles last decade and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Last year the Vikings took 26 grapplers to state and though the Vikings qualified “just” 21 this season, that is still better than any of their competitors.
In 2019, Pleasant Grove’s depth won out over Layton’s star power. Layton did crown six champs and put nine wrestlers in the finals but the Vikings placed 16 total wrestlers and beat the Lancers comfortably by 45 points. Pleasant Grove won’t have to be as deep this year as Layton’s star power has dimmed a bit.
Pennsylvania move-in Jake Richardson (170) and 3-time state placer Oakley Ridge (145) give the Vikings some star power as does a pair of 285-pounders in Wyatt Dawe and Drew Dennison, who took first and third respectively in the divisional tourney. Cannon Carlson (195), Philip Boban (220), Mathew Smith (170), Jackson Visser (126) and Zeke Kelley (138) are returning state placers and add-in freshman Jacob Carson (106) as another top contender for the Vikings.
Can a Utah County team place second? The intriguing battle could be for second place and seven teams have legitimate shots at the silver trophy including two Utah County programs in Westlake and Skyridge.
Westlake finished second to Vikings at the Divisional A tournament ahead of Layton. The Thunder did it with great depth and will bring 16 grapplers to the big tourney. Skyridge has a good amount with 13. Bingham and Layton are more likely to produce more finalists than either the Thunder or the Falcons while Fremont has good star power as well. Corner Canyon has good team depth and 16 qualifiers. But Syracuse with 18 qualifiers might have the inside track to the silver trophy, especially if the Titans could get at least two wrestlers to the championship finals.
At least one wrestler’s quest for four state titles will end at 126 pounds: To win four state titles, one has to obviously take state as a freshman. Westlake junior Jacob Finlinson and West sophomore Drew Lang checked off those boxes. Lang, won his title in 5A last season, and when West moved up classification, he found himself in the same weight class as the Thunder star. The two met two in the Divisional A tournament and the clash didn’t disappoint the fans as Finlinson held off Lang to win 1-0. There are other wrestlers out there that certainly want to disrupt this rematch including American Fork’s Nathan Bartholomew and Syracuse’s Gunnar Brown.
160 Pounds is loaded: This weight class is simply loaded with several wrestlers that have bonafide chances to take home the title. All are great athletes and skilled wrestlers.
Skyridge’s James Hornberger, who placed in state last season in 5A, won the Divisional B tournament and knocked off Corner Canyon stud Kam Moss. Bingham’s Payton Clark won the Divisional A tournament beating last year’s state runner-up Layton’s Canyon Brann. But Tytan Smith of Syracuse is in the mix as well. Moss and Smith should meet in one quarterfinal with the winner likely getting Clark. Brann and Hornberger are on the other side of the bracket and a big semifinal battle looms.
American Fork’s Hunsaker hopes to climb to the top in 2020: A bit unheralded at times has been American Fork’s Dallan Hunsaker, who placed second in state last year. The Cavemen 106-pounder has lost just once this season and that was to an out-of-state wrestler. Hunsaker won the Rockwell Rumble and was victorious at the all-star dual.
Big foes stand in way of Skyridge’s Millward and Cowan: Skyridge’s Joshua Millward (132) and Hadley Cowan (138) placed second in 5A last year and both have aspirations of going up the next step on the podium. But to claim gold, both will likely have to beat returning state champions. Millward’s main obstacle is Fremont’s Mason Denton, who won a state title last year, while Cowan wants to dethrone 3-time state champ Tyson Humpherys of Layton. Millward lost to the Silverwolf star in overtime at the divisional tourney while Cowan met Humpherys at the Rockwell Rumble losing 6-1.
6A Returning State Champions: Layton’s Quade Smith (113), Bingham’s Marco Herrera (120), Westlake’s Jacob Finlinson (126), West’s Drew Lang (126), Fremont’s Mason Denton (132), Layton’s Tyson Humpherys (138), Bingham’s Mason Christiansen (182)*, Corner Canyon’s Kade Carlson (285)*
*Won State Championship in 2018
3A/4A Notes: American Leadership Academy (ALA) had a breakthrough year last season cracking the top five in 3A. The Eagles still hold those aspirations.
ALA will be led by returning state champion Lukus Carrillo (126), and returning state placers Justyn Mitchell (195) and Sage Mortimer (106). Mortimer will be gunning for history. If the junior can place at state, she’ll be the first female wrestler to ever place twice at a state meet.
Meanwhile, Maeser Prep’s Hunter Anderton (145) won the divisional tourney and looks to be the first grappler from his program to get on the podium. Juab will be the heavy favorite to win the 3A title while Morgan and Delta likely battle for second.
Cedar Valley qualified two wrestlers for state including Caden Dunn at 138 pounds. Dunn placed third at the 4A Divisional B tournament and has a good chance to medal at the big tourney and become the school’s first ever state placer. There could be a good battle between Mountain Crest and Uintah for 4A supremacy while Bear River and Desert Hills entertain outside hopes to trophy.
The 1A and 2A tournaments were held Friday and Saturday in Richfield and Panguitch and Duchesne took home the gold trophies in 1A and 2A respectively.
Finally, for perhaps the first time in Utah prep wrestling history, not one single Utah prep wrestler will go undefeated. Utah high school programs are stretching themselves by competing in prestigious out-of-state tournaments, along with tournaments like the Rockwell Rumble which brings together the best teams and wrestlers from inside the Beehive state as well as some excellent teams outside the state. So navigating through a season unblemished is truly challenging these days.