For every miracle comeback, there is a team or individual on the losing side.
Layton’s Ken Astle was on the other side of one of the most improbable comebacks in Utah prep wrestling history. He gave up a 9-1 lead in the space of 45 seconds last weekend, as he allowed two five-point moves to Pleasant Grove’s Bridger Cutler while scoring two points of his own.
Tied 11-11, the match headed into sudden-death overtime, where Cutler tossed Astle in the same headlock maneuver for the third straight time. In the space of a minute of wrestling time, Astle’s dream of being a rare three-time state champion turned into a nightmare.
The inaugural UHSAA super state wrestling tournament will be about redemption for Astle — a second chance to get things right against the state’s best competition.
For others it will be about validation, as grapplers want to prove their state championships weren't flukes. Others want simply to suit it up for the love of the sport and perhaps to have one last chance to go against top-flight competition.
The UHSAA super state tournament, as it is officially called, invites all the state place winners from last week’s classification championships. This means weight classes could have 28 wrestlers from 1A to 5A, though in reality they will have less.
Many wrestlers understandably have moved on to other things, including a spring sport, or they just don’t want to risk tarnishing the luster of their accomplishments at last week's state tournament. Still others, while they placed at state, weren’t exactly happy with what happened and can't put away the pain to effectively engage in battle. And still others, tired of losing weight and the training rigors of one of the toughest sports, have simply had enough.
But not Astle (145 pounds), who despite being on the losing side of what will soon be a legendary story of never giving up, is more than willing to again lace up his wrestling shoes to see where he stands.
Interestingly, Cutler hasn't registered to compete — as of yet — but even if the Viking passes, Astle still can gain a sense of redemption as wrestlers that beat Cutler this season will be in the field. There is even another wrestler that toppled Astle during the season, who by the way won a state crown of his own in 4A. That would be Salem Hills sophomore star Jacob Armstrong.
By winning this tournament and beating the likes of Armstrong and Cedar City’s Kolby Lloyd, the 3A champion, Astle could once again lay claim to being the best of the best in the 145-pound class.
For younger brother Andrew, his story will be about validation. The younger Astle won the 5A title at 120 pounds and wants to prove his wares against the likes of four-time state champ Britain Carter of Maple Mountain. Also in his weight will be Viewmont’s Tanner Luke, whom Astle narrowly defeated for the 5A title, and Millard’s Nick Sorensen, the 2A champion.
It does appear that some powerhouse teams have fully supported the new concept, while others took a pass. Maple Mountain, the 4A team champion, has most of its state placers taking part in the event, while 5A champion Pleasant Grove only has two wrestlers in the field.
The Golden Eagles, in fact, have 15 of their 16 state placers registered as the only Maple Mountain wrestler not wrestling will be state champion Kimball Bastian (160 pounds) due to a knee injury that required surgery.
After Maple Mountain, 2A team champ Millard has the most wrestlers (10) doing battle. Layton has nine.
If one was worried that the smaller schools that had to travel would take a pass, 1A Rich has eight wrestlers donning singlets while Wayne has seven. Delta, the 3A champion, has a decent-sized contingent with six. But Payson, the 3A runner-up, has no wrestlers slated to participate.
It is still strange to see Gunnison scheduled to have three more wrestlers in the field than the 5A champs, and four more than 4A juggernaut Mountain Crest. And Mountain Crest’s rival, Box Elder, like Payson, also is missing in action with zero participants.
Overall, 27 of a possible 80 state champions are taking part. Three weights (120, 138 and 182) have three state champions (of a possible five) entered, while weights 132 and 160 won’t have any.
Wrestling is slated to start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Maverik Center in West Valley City. The championship finals will be at 6 p.m. The top eight finishers will receive medals.
Brian E. Preece is a freelance sports writer who has been published by the Deseret News and others. He also was the head coach for Provo HS from 1994-2006 and was the NWCA Coach of the Year for Utah in 2006.