Formal practices began Monday for the wrestling teams at Stansbury, Tooele and Grantsville high schools, but that doesn’t mean the county’s top grapplers weren’t already hard at work.
A number of them spent hours honing their craft in the offseason, attending summer camps and wrestling up to 100 matches in freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments since last season ended nine months ago. They’re hoping that will pay dividends later this year, but the divisional and state tournaments are still nearly three months away.
For now, they’re focused on getting in tip-top shape for what promises to be an action-packed sprint between now and the end of 2018, with some wrestlers recording 20 matches by the time school lets out for Christmas break.
Here’s a look at the county’s three wrestling programs going into the 2018-19 season.
Stallions coach Tyson Linnell has more than 50 grapplers in the wrestling room as practices are starting to pick up, an encouraging sign for a program that lost seven seniors to graduation after last year.
“We’re not going to be dominating like we were last year in some of the duals, but we’re still going to be solid,” Linnell said.
Linnell’s team has had a state champion in each of the past two seasons, with Logan Gustafson winning a title in 2017 and Anthony Herrera winning one of his own in February. Both have since graduated, but the Stallions have two wrestlers capable of following in their footsteps in Dylian Moore and Danny Khoundet.
Moore is looking to bounce back from a disappointing end to last season, when he failed to make weight at the state tournament and was unable to compete. He was a state finalist as a sophomore, and is considered one of the top competitors in the state in his weight class.
“(Moore) seems ready to go and he seems a lot more focused this year,” Linnell said. “Hopefully, he can keep his head on straight. He’s already under 120 pounds, so he’s going to wrestle 120 and we’re going to look and see if he can make 113. If he makes 113, I don’t think anyone in the state will touch him — he’ll be big.”
Khoundet recorded close to 100 matches in offseason tournaments and is primed to take the next step this year, as is senior heavyweight Braxton Ard.
“The more you do it, the better you get,” Linnell said of the offseason freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments. “You can see it paying off. They’re coming in this year with a different fire and ready to go.”
Ard, Walker Beck and Braden Judd are the Stallions’ lone seniors. The next generation includes sophomores Braydon Allie and Jordan Hammond, both of whom had strong freshman seasons and could make some noise this year.
“I’m excited to see where the young guys go and where they end up,” Linnell said.
The Buffaloes didn’t have the type of season they’ve become accustomed to over the years, with only five wrestlers qualifying for the 2018 Class 4A state tournament. Only one of those, senior Ryan Hintze, returns as Tooele looks for a better result this time around.
“We are more than excited about the prospects that we have coming back,” Tooele coach Cody Valdez said. “We have some kids who have been working hard all year long in the offseason. We’ve got a lot of really good wrestlers coming back.”
The Buffs have a solid core of talented grapplers returning that includes Hintze, Eli Messick, Adelicio Mascarenas and Cannon Manning. This offseason, they were able to add another piece to that puzzle when Joseph Mecham, a second-place state finisher and son of new THS swim coach Matt Mecham, moved in from Morgan.
“He’s already making an impact on the team,” Valdez said of Joseph Mecham. “Having his involvement in practice every day has been great to uplift the rest of the team as well, and they’ve been working hard together.”
Valdez is particularly excited about the incoming freshman class, which adds to an already-solid group of sophomores, juniors and seniors. He believes the Buffs are capable of reclaiming the region title in 2019 — a title that has gone to their rival to the north at Stansbury the past two seasons. Tooele is also hosting one of the two divisional tournaments this season, and hopes to use that to its advantage to qualify more wrestlers for the state tournament.
“That’s definitely one of our big goals for the end of the season, is to be the region champs again and get that title back,” he said.
In order to get there, the Buffs know it will take a full team effort.
“It’s a lot like the Utah Jazz and their team motto — ‘the team is the star,’” Valdez said. “We look at the collective body of wrestlers that we have, and while we have some great leaders who will hopefully step up … I’m most excited about the prospects we have as an entire team.”
However, Valdez said the truest measure of the Buffaloes’ success might not be measured in results on the mat.
“One of our goals as a coaching staff at Tooele High School is that we want the kids to excel on and off the mat,” he said. “We want them to be able to have lasting friendships that will last forever with their teammates. We want them to be good students, to be good examples to others and to have that respect for other people. That’s a big thing that we stress.”
The Cowboys have more than 30 wrestlers in practice as the program continues to grow — though many of them are inexperienced. Fortunately for coach Clarence Evans, he has 10 seniors, many of whom are in their third or fourth year on the squad.
“We’re going to have a pretty good team this year, I think,” Evans said.
Grantsville is led by senior Koby Johnson and junior Thomas Coates, each of whom had a good showing at last season’s Class 3A state tournament. Along with Nathen Carpenter, Logan Kuehn and Colby Johnson, they form a solid leadership group that is helping to bring the younger Cowboy wrestlers along.
“They’re almost like another coach helping some of these younger kids that have never seen a mat,” Evans said. “They’re really a lot of help and they’ve got a lot of patience with these young guys, teaching them. They realize that they were there once upon a time, too.
“They’re good hard workers. They’re good people and good citizens as well.”
The Cowboys find themselves in one of the toughest regions in one of the toughest classifications in Utah. Morgan and South Summit are always among the top teams in the state, and once the state tournament rolls around, Juab and Delta will be the favorites for the 3A title. Still, Evans has high hopes for his team, and is excited to see what happens when February rolls around.
“I think we’ve got at least three guys or more that can place, and I would guess at least two that should be in the finals, I believe, if they wrestle to their potential and stay healthy,” he said. “I think if our kids can stay healthy and wrestle hard, they’ll make some noise and have people sitting up and paying attention.”