Before this school year, the Utah High School Activities Association published online record books on its website for 23 sports, preserving accomplishments dating back as far as to the 1800s for football.
In a couple weeks or so, a 24th record book will get its first entries and no longer be blank: girls wrestling.
High school girls wrestlers in Utah are gearing up for the sport’s first sanctioned state tournament next week, which will be held in various locations across the state.
“I’m really excited. It’s a big step for girls wrestling, especially in the state of Utah,” Fremont senior Amber Nalder said.
For years, the sport was popular enough at the grassroots and club level where there were girls state tournaments put on by organizations like USA Wrestling.
This year has a much different look to it in this, the first year of girls wrestling being sanctioned at the high school level. Teams have their own coaches, their own budgets, their own schedules, take their own buses to duals — and participation is through the roof.
“I’m glad to see more girls joining the sport that I loved growing up and I feel like a state tournament is just going to help it grow more because it’s recognized as a real sport rather than just a bunch of girls play wrestling,” Syracuse High junior Adel Roennebeck said.
No longer is an elite girls wrestler in the state simply looked at as an exhibition match during a dual, or viewed as to how she can do in the boys state tournament, or seen as the one girl in the room who wrestles.
“I’m really excited that it’s finally sanctioned this year because it’s a big, growing sport, and it’s really exciting for me because I’ve grown up wrestling boys so there’s always been that kind of unfair advantage,” Syracuse High junior Brylee Roennebeck said.
There have been year-end girls state tournaments hosted by USA Wrestling in previous years, but those tournaments had a different feel.
While the sport gained popularity in Utah, girls wrestling supporters made their case for years to the UHSAA to get the sport sanctioned.
Girls wrestling participation had exploded in popularity across the country in that time, making double-digit percentage gains year after year.
“I love how much you have to push yourself and how much you push others, it’s a lot of fun,” said Fremont High junior Brinlee Gines of why she likes the sport.
Utah was the 18th state to sanction girls wrestling. Three years ago, that number was six.
The UHSAA announced it was officially sanctioning girls wrestling last year, news that was welcomed by the girls wrestling community and even the boys wrestling community, which has seen wrestling participation numbers steadily drop nationwide for a couple decades.
“You hear the rumors, ‘Oh wrestling’s on its way out,’ so I think it’s crucial to get these girls programs sanctioned because if we want to grow our sport, I think the girls are the way to do it,” Fremont head wrestling coach Cody Storey said in a December 2019 interview.
COVID-19 restrictions necessitated the change of state tournament locations this winter.
State wrestling moved from its normal spot at Utah Valley University to a plethora of places including Westlake High, Mountain View High and the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.
Girls wrestlers will have to wait another year before walking through the big parade of champions under the spotlights at UVU but, after this winter, the trophies and medals won by girls wrestlers are going to have a different shine to them.
GIRLS TOURNAMENT DATES
Monday, Feb. 15: 6A tournament at Westlake High
Wednesday, Feb. 17: 5A, 3A-1A tournament at Mountain View High
Saturday, Feb. 20: 4A tournament at Sevier Valley Center
BOYS TOURNAMENT OUTLOOKS
One of the more interesting results at divisional meets was at the 6A B divisional, where Fremont won the team title 361.5-356 over Region 1 champion Layton after the Silverwolves had wrestlers place in the top eight of almost every weight class.
They did enough not only in the championship bracket, but in the consolation bracket too. Pleasant Grove is expected to dominate the 6A state championship, but does Fremont’s divisional success say something about how the 6A championships will go?
Last year, for instance, the two 6A divisional winners were Pleasant Grove (497 points) and Syracuse (368.5) with the next-highest teams across divisions being Westlake (344.5), Corner Canyon (331.5), Layton (301.5) and Fremont (281).
The state results: Pleasant Grove, Layton, Fremont, Corner Canyon, Syracuse, Westlake.
Fremont was fourth in its division last year and third at state. Syracuse went from division winners to fifth at state. Westlake went from the third-highest divisional score to sixth at state.
A lot of it has to do with matchups in each tournament, of course, but there were plenty of upsets last year (Syracuse had a lot of high-seeded wrestlers lose early).
The state tournament is also friendlier to teams like Layton that typically field two or three surefire state-title contenders and a handful of placers each year.
Last year’s 5A divisionals, though, indicated there would be a tight battle between Payson and Wasatch at the state tournament, which turned out to be true. Wasatch pipped Payson 243.5-234 for the state title despite Payson winning its divisional meet with 12 more points than Wasatch had in its divisional.
The third-highest 5A divisional score last season went to Box Elder, which thusly finished third at state. Viewmont had the fifth-best divisional score and took fourth at state.
In 5A, the three top divisional scores this year were from Payson (555.5), Wasatch (427.5) and Box Elder (394). The gap between Payson and the other two should shrink given that Payson wrestlers will have to contend with very good Box Elder and Wasatch teams instead of wrestlers they simply outclass.
Or maybe Payson is just that good this year.
In USA Wrestling Utah’s 5A weight class rankings, the Lions have wrestlers ranked in the top six in 12 of the 14 weight classes, meaning if those wrestlers finish in the top six at state, Payson will run away with the state title before lunchtime on Thursday.
BOYS TOURNAMENT DATES
Thursday, Feb. 18: 5A tournament at Wasatch High
Friday, Feb. 19: 6A tournament at Corner Canyon High; 3A tournament at Sevier Valley Center
Saturday, Feb. 20: 4A tournament at Sevier Valley Center