SARATOGA SPRINGS — Monday was a day of firsts for the high school girls wrestling community in Utah.
The first sanctioned girls wrestling state championships were held at Westlake High in Saratoga Springs.
The first championship match to be contested featured Karla Padilla Zepeda, a junior from Northridge High, and Lusimoni Vakalahi, a sophomore from Copper Hills.
Padilla Zepeda, chronologically speaking, became Utah’s first girls wrestling champ when she pinned Vakalahi in the second period in the 245-pound weight class final.
“I think it’s still processing through my head right now, but once I go up there, it’s like, OK go show what you’ve got,” she said.
There was a ton of excitement all around for the first girls wrestling state tournament in UHSAA history, even though COVID-19 necessitated the move of the tournament to a high school site.
The UHSAA had the wrestlers walk out before the finals in the traditional parade of champions. A wrestler from Layton High sang the national anthem.
Davis High’s team members had warmup robes on that read “Defend the new tradition,” a play on the “Defend the tradition” plastered on the front of the school’s building.
Pretty much everything else Monday was just like the boys high school wrestling tournaments that have been staged in Utah for decades.
“I think (the tournament) was pretty cool. It gave us a lot of opportunities to show what we can do with our talent and confidence,” Padilla Zepeda said.
Her match kicked off a finals slate that saw the team title come down to Westlake and Copper Hills, with Westlake winning by 55 points and singing “We Are the Champions” on its home floor.
On the team side of things, Fremont took third place with 160 points, buoyed by a state championship win from Amber Nalder at 132, runner-up finishes from Lacie Toone at 124 and Brylee Bradley at 170, a third-place finish by Jessica Garcia at 245, another third place nod from Brinlee Gines at 128 and a host of other state placers.
“Last year, I took fourth place my first year (wrestling), and then seeing that improvement in myself to be able to take first place especially in the very first official girls state championship, I’m really just excited and proud of myself and my team,” said Nalder, who beat West’s Abby Fue 10-2 in their championship match.
Nalder added another aspect of the accomplishment: Her picture will be up in Fremont’s wrestling room as a state champion.
“I think that’s something that’s just really cool to see how many more girls are going to do it next year,” she said.
The fact the tournament was even contested at all is an accomplishment.
Amid a backdrop of out-of-control hospitalizations and COVID-19 case rates in November, then-Gov. Gary Herbert announced a two-week pause for scholastic sporting events among many other measures designed to blunt the disease’s rampant spread in the state.
The stoppage, which delayed the start of winter sports by two weeks, caused a lot of trepidation among an already skeptical high school sports population, which seriously wondered whether the winter season would start at all, let alone finish.
Though the UHSAA had to move the venue from Utah Valley University to Westlake High, Monday was one of many finishing lines that winter sports will cross in the coming weeks, a stark contrast when nobody was sure they’d even get so far as the starting line.
245: Karla Padilla Zepeda (Northridge) def. Lusimoni Vakalahi (Copper Hills) by fall (3:32)
170: Anya Hatch (Copper Hills) def. Brylee Bradley (Fremont) by fall (0:30)
150: Emmy Finlinson (Westlake) def. Alyxandra Walker (Clearfield) by fall (3:10)
136: Ashley Wilcox (Copper Hills) def. Jessica Nowers (Davis) by fall (1:57)
132: Amber Nalder (Fremont) def. Abby Fue (West) by major decision, 10-2
124: Meridien Grandpre (Copper Hills) def. Lacie Toone (Fremont) by fall (1:41)
108: Jamie Barton (Westlake) def. Sabrina Jensen (Syracuse) by fall (1:46)
1. Westlake, 288
2. Copper Hills, 233
3. Fremont, 160
6. Syracuse, 86
7. Northridge, 80
8. Davis, 70
9. Layton, 62