The high school wrestling season is kicking off with multiple meets across the state, and if those early meets are any indication, defending state champs Pleasant Grove, Maple Mountain, Delta, Millard and Altamont will all be very tough to beat this season.
Here’s a class-by-class look at the upcoming wrestling season:
Defending state champion Pleasant Grove returns eight state placers, including individual champions Benjamin Anderson (106), Kyson Levin (113), T.J. Wind (160) and Zachary Dawe (285), and is definitely favored to win its fourth straight state title.
Despite returning such a talented and experienced squad this year, Pleasant Grove coach Brock Moore knows they can’t get ahead of themselves.
"It's too early to tell. We haven't wrestled anyone in 5A yet; we'll find out how we are in a couple weeks," said Moore.
It might be too early to set in stone, but with eight returning state placers, including four individual state champs, the Vikings should be considered a definite favorite in 5A.
Viewmont finished six spots back from the Vikings last year and returns only two state placers in David Kim (126) and Jake Van Valkenburg (220), but head coach Brandon Ripplinger expects his team to make some noise along the way.
"Anything can happen throughout the season, you always have that element to it. But year in and year out, the numbers don't lie too often. P.G. would be upset if they get beat with what they have back this year," said Ripplinger.
Pleasant Grove and Viewmont also will be facing a talented Layton team. The Lancers are returning seven state placers from last year, including defending state champion Andrew Astle (120) and second-place finishers Colton Marshal (160) and Landon Brown (182).
Other returning individual state champs in 5A are Alta’s Matt Findlay (126), Syracuse’s Teague Vigil (152), Jordan’s Clayton Moss (182), Kearns’ Colton Grossaint (195) and Taylorsville’s Roy Nash (220).
Maple Mountain took care of business and handled Box Elder once again by 60 points to claim last year’s 4A state title.
However, if the beginning of the wrestling season is any indicator of what is to come, expect a few teams to give the Golden Eagles a run for their money.
Box Elder and Mountain Crest, which finished in second and third place in last year’s state tournament, will both be a serious contender to capture a state title this year.
"I think the championship this year really will come down to us and Box Elder, but there are always teams that you cannot look past," said Maple Mountain assistant coach Jeff Roylance. "The overall level of wrestling has risen so much over the past few years that each weight class has several excellent wrestlers that can beat anyone on any given day."
The two-time defending state champs looked sharp at the annual Wrestling Against Cancer Duals, crushing Herriman, 54-15.
The Bees are also coming off impressive wins against Sky View and Syracuse, while the Mustangs easily took care of business against Fremont.
Maple Mountain returns two individual state champions and multiple other state placers, while Box Elder returns five state placers and Mountain Crest returns six placers. The Golden Eagles’ returning champs are Kimball Bastian (160) and Taylor LaMont (113).
Without a returning state champ, Teagan Hubbard (138), who finished in second place behind Maple Mountain’s Landon Knutzen a year ago, will power the Bees, and Mountain Crest’s Jordan Wengreen (145) will anchor the Mustangs.
Despite losing many of its top individual wrestlers from last year, seven of whom placed in the top 3, the Golden Eagles are going to be a difficult team to dethrone with its nine returning state placers and talented freshman class.
Last year, Delta topped Payson by just 7.5 points to capture its second-straight 3A state title. Now that Delta has moved to 2A, Payson is presented with an opportunity to take the Rabbits’ crown.
With five returning state placers, including two individual champs in Josh Jensen (106) and Riley Loveless (120), the Lions sit in a great spot to make a run at a state title this year.
Despite losing Jed Mellen (138, 50-2), Kaelen Loveless (160, 46-6) and Devan Judd (195,44-5), the Lions have plenty of returning talent highlighted by Jensen (47-6), Loveless (45-7) and their three other returning placers.
With the last two 3A championships being decided by a combined margin of just 18.5 points, the team race should be tight once again, with schools such as Desert Hills and Uintah nipping at the Lions’ heels all season long.
When you’ve won 13 of the past 16 state titles in 2A, it’s pretty fair to assume you’re a preseason favorite to repeat.
Despite losing three of its dominant state champs in Nick Sorenson (120), Don E. Fullmer (170, 51-3) and Jeremy Aleman (220, 52-5), Millard’s expectations remain the same.
With 10 state placers returning from last year, including individual state champs Chase Kelly (132) and Rudy Alcala (138), the Eagles have the talent and depth to be a front-runner in 2A once again.
“We're putting together a pretty good line-up. We aren’t a team with a bunch of star power," Millard coach Blake Turner said. “We are just a real solid team, and it’s going to take a full-team effort to have a shot at winning it this year.”
Beaver finished right behind Millard in second place last year, and with the two-time defending 3A champs, the Delta Rabbits, joining 2A this year, the Eagles will have their work cut out for them in a competitive 3A class.
The Beavers have seven state placers returning this year, including individual state champ Kyle Evans (106), while eight state placers will return for Delta.
“We are actually excited for the challenge and to see Delta in there,” said Turner. “They do have a great team and a great line-up, and I’m sure they are picked to be the favorite. But everyone is still adjusting their line-ups, and with a lot of hard work, hopefully we can get there.”
With the majority of individual state champions back from last year, it figures to be a very competitive and exciting year in 1A wrestling this season.
“It’s going to be very close. Between Monticello and us, we should be in the top two, I think,” Altamont coach Cory Allred said. “But with Wayne and Panguitch, it’s going to be a tighter season. Those teams are coming along really well, and it should be a really good season.”
Two-time defending champion Altamont returns five top-3 finishers, including individual champs Brady Farnsworth (113) and Rylee Roy (160), as the Longhorns look to three-peat in a competitive 1A class.
Altamont did, however, lose five top-3 state placers from last year, but the Longhorns’ experience and depth should be enough to make another run at a state title.
Monticello finished second at state last year, and it returns state champions Hunter Bowring (120), Cole Eldredge (145) and Austin Wilcox (182).
Other returning 1A state champs are Duchesne’s Lane Coil (106) and Piute’s Zack Allen (132).
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724