Saturday will go down in history as the day Tooele’s girls wrestling program officially put itself on the map.
Thanks to their inaugural group of nine wrestlers, including state champions Lexee Branham and Veronica Andersen, the Buffaloes capped the first season of girls wrestling in the Beehive State with a third-place team finish, with all nine wrestlers finishing in the top-five of their respective weight classes.
“To be able to take nine girls and have all nine of them place is outstanding,” said Tooele coach Joel Spendlove, who was named the Class 4A Girls Coach of the Year. “It’s awesome to know that when it mattered the most, every one of them stepped up and won.”
Andersen and Branham are the first two female state champions in program history, and they accomplished the feat in impressive fashion. Andersen, wrestling at 120 pounds, pinned Logan’s Sierra Egbert with 55 seconds left in the first period of their first-round match. In the quarterfinals, she needed just 1:05 to take down Canyon View’s Alexis LeBaron. The semifinals brought a tougher test in Cedar Valley’s Alexia Woods, but Andersen prevailed with 11 seconds left in the second period to advance to the final. There, she pinned Bear River’s Tassie Hatch with 57 seconds left in the second period.
Meanwhile, Branham needed just two matches to capture her state title, but her performance in that limited mat time certainly left an impression. She needed all of 28 seconds to pin Mountain Crest’s Rylie Geary in the semifinal, and she followed that with a 50-second take down of Geary’s teammate, Jenna McDougal, in the final. Branham was recognized as the Most Outstanding Wrestler for the upper weights as a result.
“I knew we would have a good weekend, but they stepped up and took it to another level,” Spendlove said.
Tooele’s depth paid big dividends, keeping the Buffaloes in the top three despite having far fewer grapplers than first-place Mountain Crest or runner-up Bear River. In fact, the Buffs got more points per wrestler than either the Mustangs or Bears, proving their strength.
As a result, the Buffs were undefeated in medal matches, except in two matches where two Tooele wrestlers faced each other. In one of those, Kaletta Mascarenas pinned Savannah Malmgren 1:30 into the 140-pound third-place match, while Kenadee Branham pinned Kirra Johnson with three seconds left in the second period to claim third place at 190.
Vanessa Andersen finished fifth at 115 pounds, pinning Isabella Gunderson of Cedar Valley with just 34 seconds elapsed in the fifth-place match. Shilee Branham outlasted McKelle Jeppson of Pine View in a 9-5 decision to claim fifth place at 124, and Kaleolane Ned pinned Cedar City’s Broddyn Cox 59 seconds into the fifth-place match at 170.
“We scored 17 points on average per wrestler,” Spendlove said. “Mountain Crest averaged 16 and Bear River averaged 15. If we would have had more numbers, we probably would have won. Overall, we wrestled better than the schools that had more kids.”
After the tournament, Spendlove was surprised to receive Coach of the Year honors.
“When it was announced, it was a real deer-in-the-headlights shock,” said Spendlove, who took over from former coach Tom Evans midseason. “I was definitely humbled and grateful that I was able to win it this year. My mentor, Gary Coffman, won it a few years back, and to know that when they talk about Coaches of the Year, I get to be right there next to him — I don’t feel like I should be, but I’m definitely honored that I get to be recognized with a man like that.”
Mountain Crest easily won the team title with 427 points, followed by Bear River (171), Tooele (157), Uintah (93) and Ridgeline (83).
Stansbury’s Zerren Cornelius represented the Stallions at 108 pounds, losing both her matches by pin.