When you think of great prep wrestling states and areas of the United States, many diehards often point to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Iowa, Oklahoma, and because of its large population size, California.
In regards to more defined areas you have the Lehigh Valley that stretches though Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Or the stretch in California that runs from Bakersfield to Fresno. And, of course, the many small cities and rural pockets of America’s heartland.
But Utah is fast becoming a state that is turning heads. And Utah County and the Heber Valley is the Beehive State’s ground zero for some unbelievable wrestling talent and teams.
Of course, many out there have heard of former Wasatch great Cael Sanderson, along with his brothers Cody, Cole and Cyler and their coaching-legend father Steve. But Wasatch has produced many other great wrestlers and teams without either a Sanderson on the team or leading them.
Last year the Wasps took the 4A state title with head coach Wade Discher at the helm and look again to make another long dynastic run.
Some thought that the young Wasps might be a year away, and after taking second at the divisional tournament they hosted, it seemed that way. But a week later, the Wasps gathered themselves and dominated the 4A field with two state champions and six other state finalists. Out of these seven wrestlers that competed for state titles in 2015, five of them return plus a bevy of other returning state placers.
Braiden Parker (120 pounds in 2015-16) is a returning state champion and Trevor Cluff (113), Corbin Smith (132), Jakob Discher (145) Ritchie Heywood (170), and Ben Bos (285) were silver medalists last season and return with huge plans to move to the top of the podium.
Adding to the Wasp death will be returning state placers Steven Ballif (138) and DJ Cohen (160) while Zak Kohler (126) is a freshman sensation that will certainly contend for high honors.
The Wasps have already won by a large margin the prestigious Layton Invitational in the traditional individual bracket format and then won their own tournament, the very demanding Wasatch Intermountain Duals that featured perennial wrestling powers Box Elder, Mountain Crest, South Summit, Weber, Grand Junction out of Colorado and Pleasant Grove, though the Vikings had several of their top wrestlers competing at the Walsh Iron Man in Ohio that weekend.
Wasatch will compete in Region 8, which might arguably be the toughest league put together in Utah wrestling history. This year the league will not only feature the Wasps but Maple Mountain (2nd in 4A state last year), Payson (3A state champions last year), Uintah (third in 3A state last year) along with Salem Hills and Spanish Fork, the latter two programs very capable of challenging for the top five this season.
Of course the Golden Eagles have 3-time state champion Taylor LaMont (132/138) gunning not only for his fourth state title but about every other national honor a prep wrestler can ascertain.
The Golden Eagles also have Tanner Cox (120), who is a 2-time state champion, while teammates Brandyn VanTassell (152), Ben Peterson (138), Cory Rokovitz (182), and Korbon Tibbals (220) are returning state placers. Also, freshmen Wade Bastian (195) and Parker Gasser (120) are grapplers of notice.
Maple Mountain recently sent a message not to give Wasatch the gold trophy just yet as the Golden Eagles stunned the Wasps 36-34 in their dual last Wednesday, though Wasatch finished fourth and Maple Mountain seventh at the Reno Tournament of Champions that concluded Saturday.
Payson will find the move to 4A a bit tougher but still have wrestlers that should compete well. Cousins Jed (138) and Chayce Loveless (182) wrestled in the state finals last season while Austin Hone (126), Cael Ford (132) and Tyler Manoonkin (160) were returning state placers. The Lions suffered a blow when returning state finalist Payden Osborn was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
The Skyhawks will lean on the talents of 2-time state finalist Jaxon VanTassell (170), along with 2014 state finalist Kyle Larsen (160) who returns to action after missing the 2015 state tournament because of injury.
Braedin May (106) and Bradin Hohrein (160) lead the charge for the Dons while Gunther Snodgrass (285) hopes to do well for the young Springville squad.
Region 8 Predictions: 1. Maple Mountain 2. Wasatch 3. Uintah 4. Payson 5. Salem Hills 6. Spanish Fork 7. Springville.
Region 7 Notes: Mountain View looks to be the team to beat in Region 7. The Bruins went undefeated at the Turkey Dart Duals and backed that up with a solid 6-4 performance at the very demanding Iron Man Duals hosted by Millard.
The Bruins will be led by returning state placers Gabe Terry (113) and Keegan Ngatuvai (182) while other Bruin wrestlers that are turning heads are Brigham Miyazarra (120/126),Keegin Bray (145), Jonathan Terry (160), Alan Ginger (285), and Colton Rigby (285).
Mountain View head coach Chad Blevins believes the team goal of winning region and placing in the top eight is in reaching and his wrestlers are doing the things necessary to reach these expectations.
“I am very grateful for the brotherhood and mentorship in the program. The leaders have taken the younger wrestlers under their wings to create a strong sense of unity,” said Blevins.
Orem, Provo, Timpanogos and Timpview will also compete in Region 7 along with Salt Lake Valley schools Alta and Corner Canyon.
Both the Hawks and Chargers started 2-0 in Region 7 duals to start off the season though Mountain View took down the Hawks last Thursday. The Region 7 Dual meet title should come down to Corner Canyon and Mountain View, though the Bruins finished significantly higher at the Viewpoint Invitational than the Chargers and appear to have the edge.
Timpview is led by 2-time state placer Nate Richardson (195), who hopes to return to action shortly after breaking his hand in the 4A football semifinals.
Orem has one returning state medalist in Tyler Gleed (195), along with Adam Robins (126), who recently finished second at the Viewmont Invitational.
Provo’s leading wrestler is Schafer Heiner (126), who placed fourth in state last year, while Jeff Eidem (152) gives Timpanogos some muscle.
Region 7 Predictions: 1. Mountain View 2. Corner Canyon 3. Alta 4. Orem 5. Provo 6. Timpanogos 7. Timpview.
Region 4 Notes: There will probably be no stopping Pleasant Grove this year from winning that sixth straight 5A title. The Vikings are talented and deep. Pleasant Grove also possesses a youth program rivaled by few and is a program steeped in tradition.
Ben Anderson (152) seeks his fourth straight title and Nelson Jones (138) goes for his second. Koy Wilkinson (170) is also a returning state champ. Other top Viking wrestlers include returning state placers Brandon Closson (220), who just placed 8th at the Walsh Iron Man tourney in Ohio this past weekend, Derek Fisher (120), and Nicholas Lund (126). Jaxon Moore (113) is an incoming freshman for the Vikings to eyeball.
Another Utah Valley team with high hopes of a strong state finish is the American Fork Cavemen. American Fork has returning state champions Cameron Hunsaker, who should man the 126-pound division. Tayler Durfee (138) is a returning state place winner that hopes to strike gold in February. James Holman (113), Josh Bartholomew (120) Tony Brady (126), Shad Preece (145), and Porter Johnson (152) give the Cavemen some strong depth.
American Fork head coach Eric Spencer is very excited about this year’s team.
“If all goes as planned, the Cavemen squad hope to break into that top five,” said Spencer. “It will be tough, but they hope to rise to the occasion.”
Westlake head coach Cody Burdett is also very opportunistic about the season.
“I'm really excited for this season. We have a good mix of returning senior wrestlers along with a great group of underclassmen who are eager to learn and work extremely hard,” said Burdett.
The Thunder got a big win over Davis at the Wrestling Against Cancer Duals to kick off their season. Westlake has two wrestlers at 160 pounds who could contend for medals this season in Zach Colledge and Michael McCann with the latter pinning Davis returning state finalist Wyatt Knowlton in the Wrestling Against Cancer Duals. Bryce Peterson at 182 pounds is another Thunder grappler to watch. Not only is Peterson a solid wrestler, he carries a 4.0 GPA and the senior has been nominated for Academic All-State.
Lehi will be led by Colby Eastmond (106), Mithell Jamiyandorj (126) and Weston Anderton (195), who all placed at the tough Layton Invitational.
Lone Peak is rebuilding a bit but the Knights’ Aaron Wilkinson (152) has shown well thus far in 2015.