RIVERDALE — If you told Bonneville High senior Sam Bush three years ago she would be competing to qualify for the state wrestling tournament this year — and that she would be a team captain with a scholarship to wrestle in college — she would have laughed at you.
Bush was a volleyball player. If an athletic scholarship was in her future, it would have been because of volleyball, she would have told you.
While she may have laughed off such a notion, however, a future in wrestling wouldn’t have been totally absurd.
Wrestling is part of the Bush family. Sam’s father, Kasey, wrestled in the state championship match his junior year at Gunnison High. Both of her younger brothers, and even her younger sister, wrestle as well.
But Sam simply didn’t have the same passion.
Toward the end of her sophomore volleyball season, Sam suffered a slight MCL tear. She missed the last three weeks of the season, and during that time, her parents hauled her off to wrestling practices to watch her younger siblings.
She didn’t know if she would ever be able to play volleyball at the same level ever again, but she still felt the thirst for athletic competition. She gave wrestling a shot.
“I tried out and I don’t know, I fell in love with it,” she said. “I never really thought of playing volleyball (again). It was weird.”
It’s hard for Sam to pinpoint exactly why she fell in love with wrestling. She just knew it’s the way she felt.
As could have been predicted in a sport dominated by boys, challenges arose — brutal challenges that would test just how much she really had fallen in love.
During a tournament her sophomore year, Sam heard some Ogden High wrestlers making some unflattering remarks about her.
Some wrestlers from other schools wouldn’t even take the mat with her, electing to forfeit instead. Others would wrestle, but would “go out really timid” because they didn’t want to hurt her, while others would actually want to hurt her “to kind of show that girls can’t wrestle and they shouldn’t be out there,” she said.
Sam admits she didn’t always handle it in the best way, but tried to use the reactions as motivation.
“It was kind of one of those stubborn things of ‘I’m not going to let them dictate what I’m going to do, and I’m going to go out there and show them that they’re wrong,’” Sam said. “I was going to show them I was better than them.”
During her junior year, Sam was at a tournament and was set to square off with one of the Ogden wrestlers who had made comments about her the year before. She got her revenge with a convincing pin.
“I could see when she stepped out there she was kind of scared, but she battled through it and really went out and pummeled the kid,” Kasey Bush said. “Ended up taking him and throwing him into a pin and pinning the kid.”
Sam said the attitude of other wrestlers has changed significantly from her first year.
“I’ve got to know a lot of the boys that wrestle around the state and we’ve gotten really close, and I look at them all as my brothers now,” she said.
She’s improved each of her three years at Bonneville, according to her father. He says the difference is “night and day” and cited her performance in the Ben Lomond duals the last couple years as evidence.
Last year, Sam took third at the Ben Lomond duals. This year, she went undefeated.
“What people don’t realize with wrestling is it’s not an ‘I work at it for a month or so and I’m going to be really good at it,’” Kasey Bush said. “With wrestling you have to work at it for years to start really becoming good.
“Right now, she’s just starting, and honestly, I can’t wait to watch when she gets into college and she starts getting coached there and how much she takes off.”
Sam recently signed a letter of intent to wrestle at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois.
It will be an interesting change — Sam will go from wrestling boys to wrestling in a women’s division. If her recent history is any indication, she’s well prepared for the adjustment. She took third place wrestling girls at the Reno Worlds, a national tournament, last year.
Sam was hopeful to qualify for the Utah high school state tournament, but she suffered an injury at the 4-A divisionals on Feb. 1.
Twenty seconds into her first match she landed on her right shoulder, suffering a slight separation of the AC joint and some damage to ligaments. Despite only being able to use her left shoulder after the fall, she miraculously managed to last all three rounds, although she had to go to the hospital and wasn’t able to wrestle for any placing.
Sam would have rather kept wrestling.
“I really fought hard to go back in there,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to the hospital because I really thought I could beat the next kid and go on and place.”
She’s still “kind of bitter” about the injury and cried “basically the rest of the weekend,” she said, but she’s eager to support her younger sister and brother, who both qualified for the state tournament. Freshman Kierstien Bush took fifth place and sophomore Mckay Bush took eighth, both in the 106-pound division.
“I’ll have the signs ready and everything,” Sam said.