There’s nothing easy about being a high-level high school athlete. It takes countless hours of hard work to separate yourself from the rest of the pack, trying to gain the slightest little edge over your opponent. It’s what separates the great from the good-enough.
And, oh, by the way, there’s still the student part of “student-athlete” to worry about, and remembering to enjoy being a kid while you still can. There’s no doubt it can be a difficult balancing act.
Knowing just how hard these kids work to be the best they can be makes it all the more rewarding to see them succeed from my vantage point. And while a state championship may be the most concrete measuring stick when it comes to greatness, it isn’t the be-all, end-all.
Take Stansbury senior Zaxton Hillman, for instance. At this weekend’s Class 4A state swimming meet, he finished tied for eighth in the 50-yard freestyle and seventh in the 100-yard freestyle. That may not seem like much until you consider that he was a distance swimmer, competing in the 200 and 500 free, before suffering a shoulder injury. Distance races and sprint races are completely different beasts. For him to even make it to state is an impressive accomplishment. To not only make it, but to compete in the final heat, and to finish in the top eight? That’s the product of dedication for someone who, by the way, also has a scholarship to play college soccer. (You’ll be reading about his exploits in these pages in the weeks to come.)
The wrestling state tournament always is good for a story or two. This year, it was good for several. Grantsville sent 14 grapplers to the Class 3A tournament — 12 of whom were underclassmen. Two of them, Thomas Coates and Koby Johnson, will see their names added to the big board in Grantsville High’s gymnasium as the latest members of an exclusive club — those who have placed at the state tournament while donning Cowboy red.
Tooele’s Carter Grgich lost his junior season to a knee injury, and wasn’t sure how this, his senior season, was going to go. Uncertainty and wrestling don’t typically work well together, considering we’re talking about a sport where any sort of weakness, whether it be physical or mental, is quickly exposed. But Grgich overcame all of that, and when the dust settled, he came away as the sixth-place finisher in Class 4A in his weight class.
Then, of course, you have Tooele County’s three newest state champions. Grantsville swimmer Savannah Thomas, who won the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard backstroke at the Class 3A state swim meet and Stansbury wrestler Anthony Herrera, who won the 138-pound Class 4A state championship, capped illustrious high-school careers with their titles. Hours of blood, sweat and tears went into the making of these two championship athletes, who will be long remembered for their successes.
As for Thomas’ teammate, freshman Hadlee Begay, who won the 500-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly titles? Her story is only just beginning to be written. With how hard she works, it will be fun to see how many times her name is listed in the record books when all is said and done three years from now.
So, thank you to all our hard-working athletes, including the basketball players who will begin their quests for state titles of their own this weekend. Here’s to hoping you all get rewarded.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He loves to see all of Tooele County’s athletes succeed, whether they’re wearing Cowboy red, Stallion blue or Buffalo purple. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.