Normally, with the spring sports season set to begin on Monday, I would be using this space to talk about how excited I am to watch some baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and golf over the next few months as the weather warms up again.
However, since the rug got pulled out from under our student-athletes just a couple weeks into last spring, I hope I can be forgiven for being cautiously optimistic at best. Here’s hoping that we don’t ever have to go through something like that again.
But instead of getting myself all excited just yet — there will, no doubt, be time for that — let’s look back on the season we just finished. And, what a season it was.
This was the first year that the Utah High School Activities Association has sponsored girls wrestling as its own sport, with its own state tournament. If this inaugural season taught us anything, it is that Tooele County is about to become known as a hotbed for talented female grapplers, if it isn’t already.
Four state champions will do that. The names of Veronica Andersen and Lexee Branham will live on in Tooele High wrestling lore forever, as will Jade Garcia and Hannah Broderick at Grantsville High. There’s no doubt that those four left an impression this year that will motivate others to give the sport a try, and we’re only scratching the surface of what girls wrestling in Tooele County and Utah as a whole will become.
Local boys wrestlers had a memorable winter of their own. Tooele’s Parker Hansen and Stansbury’s Brandon Ploehn each reached the state championship round in Class 4A, while Stansbury set a school record with six placers. Tooele had two placers and Grantsville had three. Like the girls, this season felt like an indication of better things to come.
It felt a little like the end of an era in the swimming pool. Grantsville’s Hadlee Begay capped an incredible high school career by winning state championships in the 500-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, her seventh and eighth individual Class 3A titles. She has set such a high standard over the past four years that it’s hard to imagine anyone following in her footsteps — at least for a while. Of course, that’s not to say it can’t happen.
Tooele senior Myra Miller had the unlikeliest run to a state championship with her thrilling win in the Class 4A girls’ 200 individual medley. Everyone likes an underdog story, and Miller’s was most certainly that. According to her seeding, she wasn’t even supposed to make it out of the prelims — and she almost didn’t even make it to the prelims, given some miscommunication at the state meet. But, she didn’t just survive the prelims — she put herself in the finals, and thaen she put herself on the top step of the medal stand.
It was an incredible season on the basketball courts of Tooele County, as well. Grantsville’s boys and girls each finished third in Class 3A, continuing a recent run of excellence for the Cowboys. The girls have reached the third day of the state tournament in each of the past four seasons, while the boys have made it that far three times in four years under the tutelage of three different head coaches (Bryan Detweiler in 2018, Stace Riding in 2020 and Nate Austin this year). While both teams will have some major pieces to replace, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see them right back at the top again in 2021-22.
Tooele’s boys and girls each made appearances in Class 4A’s second round. The THS girls used a suffocating defense, along with the leadership of seniors Aysha Lewis, Madi Baker and Emma Higley, to finish second in Region 10, while Justin Rogers powered the boys with dominant efforts on the court and strong leadership off of it.
Over at Stansbury, ridiculous depth led the boys team to the second round of the state tournament, with the promise of more to come with the likes of Landen Giles, Logan Richins and Bridger Thomas set to return next season. The girls endured a challenging season, but they gained valuable experience and their own trio of Epa Tia, Ainsley Thurber and Sarah Gatluak will all be back next year.
So, that closes the book on the winter of 2020-21. Let’s hope the spring season brings us even more memories in the weeks and months to come.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He is excited that he won’t be cooped up in his house anymore now that the games are moving outside. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.