ROY — To put into perspective the act the Box Elder High wrestling coach had to follow for the 2018-19 season, consider this:
Mike Ripplinger, the head coach who retired after the 2018 state tournament after coaching the Bees for 34 years, coached teams to six state titles, 25 region titles and had 58 individual state champs.
The rumor is that if you look up the word “tradition” in the dictionary, the result will be “Box Elder wrestling.”
Maybe it was only fitting that the Bees’ new coach wasn’t even born yet when Ripplinger — who everyone calls “Ripp” — started coaching.
“So I got the job, they give me the confirmation call and I think, ‘Wow that’s awesome!’ and then my second thought was, ‘That’s intimidating.’ Really big shoes to fill, but it’s been good,” 27-year-old Bees wrestling head coach Jed Craner said.
Who wouldn’t be intimidated? Of the four walls in Box Elder’s wrestling room, one is devoted to big boards that list state champion winners — and there’s a lot of boards and names. On another wall, there’s a shelf crammed with trophies.
Craner is excited and humbled to be at BEHS. This season is a transition year but it’s been pretty seamless for Box Elder. The Bees are still regarded as one of the teams to beat in Region 5 and one of the teams that can make a run at a state title this year.
“It’s just funny seeing the different styles of wrestlers. Ripp was a cradle guy and Jed, he doesn’t focus on entirely on cradles and stuff, he does a lot of moves that he did in high school and every wrestler’s different,” senior Ryan Gunn said.
“I feel like the team welcomed him in well.”
They still have the ability to overwhelm teams like they did against Roy on Wednesday night. They overwhelmed Fremont and Woods Cross earlier this year with a tight win against rival Bear River sandwiched between.
Three wrestlers in particular stand out. That’s Gunn (17-0), Lucas Cochran (18-1) and freshman Bridger Ricks (16-2).
Gunn went to the 220-pound finals last year and lost. That’s fueling his motivation a bit, even as he made the choice to wrestle in the 285-pound division this year despite weighing around 235.
“Sometimes it’s a little more, not nerve-racking but, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy does weigh 60 pounds heavier than me.’ But there’s times where I’ve got to rely on speed now,” Gunn said.
Ricks has grown up watching his older brother, Garrett, wrestle and eventually win three state titles for the Bees. Garrett graduated after last season. Bridger is a quick, aggressive wrestler — something you need in the 106-pound division he currently wrestles in.
“Jed’s an awesome coach. He conditions us so good and makes us work hard,” Bridger said.
One thing clear from day one was the Bees were going to be one of the best, if not the best, conditioned team around.
To help with that, Craner enlisted — no pun intended — his brother-in-law Dan McKenzie, who has a military background, to help coach. So it’s any number of intense, fast and hard drills for the Bees this year.
“McKenzie, he’s an Army guy and he wears it off on us. It’s good stuff, though,” Ricks said. “In our matches we’re not gassed at all because we’ve been working hard in the wrestling room.”
Craner was a two-time state wrestling champ at Fremont and McKenzie helped coach him there. More recently, Craner was the head coach at Bonneville High. The Lakers were briefly in the same region as Box Elder, so Craner conversed with Ripplinger a little bit.
Ripplinger, who in retirement has apparently become a very good pickleball player, goes to some dual matches and tournaments these days. Craner says he talks to him frequently, asking for coaching advice and talking about other topics.
So he’s not totally on his own as his first season in the big chair continues.
6A Region 1
Three-time state champion Terrell Barraclough aims for a four-peat later this year, though he’s had some injuries to deal with so far. The Layton High senior wrestled at 126 pounds and this year he’s at 145 along with his teammate Tyson Humphreys, a two-time defending champ who moved up from 138.
The Lancers return several state semifinalists: Aiden Harris, Isaac Fisher, Canyon Brann, Alec Bolingbroke and Jon Hunt to go with eight other returners who qualified for state.
Layton also picked up Fremont transfer Tayton Bennett, a senior who went 37-9 last year at 113 pounds (now wrestling at 132) and went to the state semis before having to forfeit his match.
It’s safe to say the Lancers are probably the team to beat in Region 1. At the state tournament, a run at the title will have to go through defending champion Pleasant Grove and last year’s third-place finisher Herriman.
Syracuse, Weber and Fremont can challenge Layton for a region title.
Syracuse saw two of its best wrestlers graduate but has juniors Joshua Rossi (13-2, 160 pounds) and Tytan Smith (13-2, 170), seniors Samuel Sprehn (11-4, 170) and Kaden Montano (11-4, 285), sophomores Isaac Griffin (11-4, 126) and Camron Eden (11-4, 170), and freshman Jordan Davies (12-3, 152).
Juniors Weston Warr (22-2, 285 pounds) and Mason Denton (21-2, 138) are two of Fremont’s most successful returners so far. Fellow junior Kolton Kammeyer is 14-3 and freshman Corbin Platt is 18-3 wrestling at 120.
Two-time Weber High state champ Brady Briskey graduated but here comes Zach Durbano, who’s off to a 20-2 start wrestling at 195 after going to the 182-pound semifinals last year. Tyler Long (13-2, 182) and Leeland Woolsey (17-4, 160) bring up a pretty solid trio for the Warriors. It’s plausible they could improve on their eighth-place team finish at state last year.
Yonadah De La Cruz and Zach Phillips return for Clearfield, both of whom qualified for the state last year in different weight classes (182 and 195). They’re both wrestling at 220 this year.
There’s a smaller sample size, match-wise, to draw from with Davis High right now, which has had a bit of its depth affected by Farmington High opening. The early standouts are freshman Liam Major (4-0, 113 pounds), Heston Percival (5-0, 182), Parker Coffey (6-1, 132) and Steven Newton (5-1, 120).
Northridge’s Hunter Swalberg (120), Bridger Brown (138), Edson Romero (145), Brennon Duffy (170) all qualified for state last year and return this season.
5A Region 5
Defending region and state champion Viewmont didn’t really take as big a hit as many thought with Farmington opening.
The Vikings have two defending state finalists (Karson Rees and Jeremy Evans) and five returning semifinalists (Jameson Burnett, Lorince Essig, Jackson Coyle, Tyson Zesiger and Duncan Purpura).
Defending 106-pound state champ Parker Frasure (12-3, 126 pounds) went from Viewmont to Farmington but is now injured and out for the season.
At Farmington, Zach Pace (15-3, 182), Austin Gillette (19-6, 145), Kolby Pead (19-7, 132), Jake Anderson (13-5, 220), Jaron Hales (15-8, 132) and Zachary Nadeau (13-6, 220) help make up a 12-person contingent of double-digit winners so far.
Roy has a returning state semifinalist Gage Sackett at 285. Sackett’s 6-2 this year, joining sophomores Brenden Bleicher (10-3, 170) and Donald Butler (9-3, 132) as well as junior Kavan Cantrell.
Woods Cross and Bountiful are more of the unknowns. Both graduated some of their best wrestlers who made runs at state last year.
As far as the state meet goes, Wasatch is going to be Viewmont’s biggest challenge to the title throne and vice versa.
4A Regions 11 & 12,
3A Region 13
Bear River has many good wrestlers coming back from a good team. As usual.
Among them are defending 220-pound state champion Logan Pond, reigning finalist sophomore Scott Robertson, Avery Dustin, Kamryn Rees, Maverik Skinner and Rex Westmereland.
For Bonneville, the Lakers have reigning state finalist sophomore Austin Bush back after a 45-win season.
Just one of Ben Lomond’s five state qualifiers return, and that’s Marcus France. In the 4A state tournament, Uintah and Payson are your likely title frontrunners.
Three-time Morgan High state champion Chase Trussell is now at Utah Valley University but the Trojans have a lot of youth making some early waves, along with good returners. Last year, Jarrett Jorgensen went 44-9 and won the 120-pound state title. He’s 8-2 this year, wrestling at 132.
At the 3A state tournament, Juab and Delta will likely be the frontrunners this year, as they are perennially.