Prep wrestling in Utah has a unique way to qualify for the state tournament. Since the sport has both individual and team aspects, moving toward a divisional qualifying tournament has most coaches feeling that this is the best way to ensure the best wrestlers qualify for the state meet, thus giving the team races the strongest validity.

Regions vary greatly in strength. For example, Region 8 is likely to produce the top two teams in 5A, but by dividing the classifications (in theory) into equal divisions, it mediates the issues relative to strength of region and helps the best wrestlers get to the state meet.

“Divisionals is a much better qualifying tournament for the state tournament compared to the regional tournament,” stated Salem Hills head wrestling coach Blake Mangum. “The divisional tournament helps our kids qualify and end up wrestling the correct competition at the state tournament. The region tournaments did a poor job at separating the best kids in weights from each other. Divisonals does a much better job at getting kids in the right spots for the state brackets.”

So the two top contenders in 5A, Payson and Wasatch, will be in separate divisions. The system of dividing the divisions derives itself from how many returning wrestlers (and points earned) each school has from the previous year. It isn’t entirely foolproof as wrestlers often get injured, quit their teams or transfers schools. And sometimes it doesn’t account for a new school being built and what wrestlers it might draw from surrounding areas. Further complicating things is that divisions were designed to be equal from A-Z, but the reality is that some weights in some divisions will be stacked where the other division won’t be as competitive.

So let’s take a look at some of the division meets and what to expect this weekend.

6A Divisional A Tournament hosted by West High School:

Schools attending: American Fork, Bingham, Copper Hills, Cyprus, Granger, Hunter, Layton, Jordan, Pleasant Grove, Riverton, Taylorsville, West, Westlake.

Pleasant Grove will be the big favorite to win this divisional and the Vikings hope to do what they did last year and qualify close to its entire team for the state tournament.

Pleasant Grove’s top wrestlers this season have been Pennsylvania move-in Jake Richardson (170 pounds) and returning state runner-up Oakley Ridge (145). Both are favored to take state in their weight classes. Pleasant Grove is strong in its upper weights with the likes of Cannon Carlson (195), Philip Boban (220), Wyatt Dawe (285) and Drew Dennison (285). Add in two-time state placer Zeke Kelley (138) and freshman sensation Jacob Carson (106) and the Vikings are extremely formidable.

The interesting thing about this divisional is it put Pleasant Grove and Layton, the top two teams from 6A last year, in the same divisional. While Pleasant Grove is more reliant on depth, Layton boasts good star power. Tyson Humpherys (138) goes for his fourth state title for the Lancers and Quade Smith (113) and Canyon Brann (160) were state silver medalists last year.

Westlake and Bingham, both from Region 4, are the likely challengers to Layton for second place.

Junior Jacob Finlinson (126) seeks his third state title for the Thunder, but West sophomore sensation Drew Lang stands in his way. Both won state titles last year. Dominic Castro (138), Trent Taylor (145) and Anthony Stockwell (220) are returning state placers for Westlake. The Thunder will try to do it with depth and quality JV wrestlers while Bingham is more of a star power centered team with the likes of returning state champion Mason Christiansen (182). Riverton, who won the 5A Duals, is also a team to watch and American Fork, led by state runner-up Dallan Hunsaker (106), along with returning state placers Nathan Bartholomew (126) and Hayden Wilson (138), also wants to shake things up.

6A Divisional B Tournament hosted by Syracuse High School

Schools attending: Clearfield, Corner Canyon, Davis, Fremont, Herriman, Kearns, Lone Peak, Northridge, Roy, Skyridge, Syracuse, Weber, West Jordan.

Host Syracuse will be the favorite to win this divisional that seems a bit weaker and more wide open overall than Divisional A. With its depth, Skyridge would like to push the Titans for divisional supremacy while Corner Canyon, Davis, Fremont and Herriman desire to do the same.

Skyridge will be led by returning state finalists Joshua Milward (132) and Hadley Cowan (138). Hunter Bown (113), Braden Rex (145) and James Hornberger (170) are also strong Falcon grapplers that have medaled last year at the state tourney. Though not a contender for team honors, Lone Peak will hope for good tournaments from Ethan Rugg (152), Zeb Mendenhall (160) and Ian Ahlstrom (220).

5A Divisional A Tournament hosted by Wasatch High School

Schools attending: Bonneville, Bountiful, Cottonwood, East, Farmington, Park City, Provo, Salem Hills, Spanish Fork, Timpanogos, Timpview, Viewmont, Wasatch, Woods Cross.

The question won’t be so much whether Wasatch will win this divisional, but whether the Wasps can qualify enough wrestlers in high enough positions to challenge Payson at the state tournament.

Wasatch has shown at the big tournaments its quality and has stars galore. River Wardle (132) and Sammy Heywood (138) are going for their third state titles, while Stockton O’Brien (145) seeks his fourth. Deklan Kelly (120) was a silver medalist last year as was Brock Lloyd (170). But what is encouraging Wasp head coach Wade Discher is his freshman wrestlers, who he thinks will have a big impact. Freshman wrestlers like Parker Hayes (106), Duncan Watt (106), Austin Kelly (120) and Bryson Lloyd (126).

“Our freshman class is really outstanding, said Discher. “They’re going to score us some big points.

Discher knows his team has some holes, especially in the upper weights but still wants to qualify 18-20 wrestlers for the big tournament.

Salem Hills first year head coach Blake Mangum doesn’t entertain the lofty expectations of Wasatch but wants his Skyhawk team to make some noise.

The main goal for Salem Hills High School is to qualify student-athletes for the state tournament,” Mangum said. “I am hoping we can qualify more than we did last year. We lost some good kids from last year’s team, but we have a deeper team this year compared to last year. I think we can qualify 16 kids. The main focus is to have fun, compete, and continue to get better and improve for years to come.”

Brothers Dawson (138) and Heston (152) Wood lead the Skyhawk charge while Luke McDonald (126) and Luke DeGraffenreid (132) add additional muscle.

Last year, Provo’s Jimmy Tomasi (285) took state but placed second in the divisional. He’ll be the strong favorite to win the Divisional A crown this year.

Timpview will be led by Cael Richardson (220), who could get a stiff test from East’s Sau Tafisi and Timpanogos’ Breydon Jorgensen. This trio placed third, fourth and fifth in state last season respectively and Richardson and Tafisi have split matches this year while Jorgensen beat the Thunderbird grappler in a dual meet.

Timpanogos’ Elijah Kratzer (195) should be the favorite to win his weight class. Springville’s Jace Witney (152) will be a top contender as he could battle with Spanish Fork’s Brock Davis. Don Senior Dawson Shepherd (138) also hopes to make some waves as does his teammate Clay Orton (132). Other wrestlers to watch will be Provo’s Joshua Weeks (152), Springville’s Alejandro Quezada (182) and Timpview’s Chase Biggs (170) and Conner Morris (182).

Divisional B Tournament hosted by Mountain View High School

Schools attending: Alta, Box Elder, Brighton, Highland, Hillcrest, Lehi, Maple Mountain, Mountain Ridge, Mountain View, Orem, Payson, Skyline.

Payson will be the favorite to win this divisional but Box Elder hopes to make a serious challenge.

The Lions have a deep line-up with strong JV wrestlers and one advantage they could eventually have over Wasatch is this depth and the ability to qualify more wrestlers for the state meet.

Payson isn’t without its stars as Cole Jensen (120) is a past state champion. Payson is also double tough at 126 pounds with the likes of returning state placers Austin Hone and Layne Shepherd. Deegan Palmer (132), like Hone, placed second in state last year. Payson hopes that Tucker Naccarato (170) can return from a leg injury he suffered at the all-star dual. Payson is also hoping to get big points from Trey Hiatt (138) and Louis Williams (195).

Mountain View has had an outstanding season going 24-1 in dual meets including winning the Region 7 title.

Twin brothers Radi (182) and Elijah (195) Stafford are incredible athletes who also play basketball in the Bruin program. But this pair win plenty of wrestling matches. Aaron Hyatt (138), Hunter Chariton (145), Christopher Esparza (220) and Ryley Horrocks (285) have had good seasons for Mountain View as well and hope to battle for medals at both the divisional and state meets.

Maple Mountain definitely has some star power with brothers Brock (113) and Declan (132) Morris, Cooper Cox (126), Quinlin Jackson (160) and Andrew Jensen (170), all returning state placers.

Lehi’s Harrington Ray (220), a Reno Tournament of Champions placer, could battle with Esparza for a title. Also eyeball Ryder Hatch (285) to see if he makes a run to the top of the podium for the Pioneers. Meanwhile, Orem’s Justin Evans (138) and Kyle Tuley (145) hope to have a strong performance.

Other Divisionals: American Leadership Academy (ALA) will compete with Maeser Prep in the 3A Divisional B tournament hosted at the Sevier Event Center in Richfield.

ALA and Emery are likely to battle it out with tourney favorite Morgan for the title. The Eagles will be led by returning state champion Lukus Carrillo (126). The state’s top female wrestler Sage Mortimer (106) is also a top contender as is Justyn Mitchell (195). Hunter Anderton (145) has competed well for Maeser Prep.

Cedar Valley is the county’s lone 4A school and will head north to compete at Mountain Crest High School. The Aviator’s top wrestler in their inaugural season has been Caden Dunn (138).

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