State’s top wrestlers have their game faces on for All-Star Duals exhibition

In the tunnels of the Utah Community Credit Union Center at Utah Valley University, wrestlers waited for their turns to compete in Tuesday night’s Utah High School All-Star Duals. Although the annual event is an exhibition to showcase the best wrestlers in the state, and winning doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, the boys and girls carried intensity on their faces, music in their headphones and winning in their minds.

“This whole building — the lights and the whole walkout and everything — it represents the state tournament,” said Parker Gasser, a senior at Maple Mountain who won his match. “So I take it very seriously and act like I’m reliving the state tournament over and over and over until the time comes.”

Gasser was one of 90 competitors in the event, which features top wrestlers in five classifications and includes a wild-card division. Gasser, who listens to Michael Jackson before bouts, was so keyed in that he finished and won his match after he “popped a rib out.”

Calun Whitaker of Millard High School Whitaker was scheduled to wrestle fellow 220-pounder Kade Carlson of Corner Canyon in a rematch of last year’s All-Star dual. Whitaker beat Carlson in that bout.

But Carlson was a late scratch due to illness, setting up Whitaker’s bout with Maika Tauteoli of Pleasant Grove, who is ranked first among the 220-pound wrestlers. Whitaker made sure he got in the right mindset to beat such a prominent opponent and came out on top.

Whitaker said he was happy he prevailed over Tauteoli, but would not have minded if he had lost.

“It’s whatever,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker’s take on the All-Star matches are they are mainly for fun and a good way to fundraise for UVU. His match was the second to last of the evening, and he said watching the other matches “gets boring sometimes.”

But Whitaker very much enjoys watching the best in the state go at it.

“I like the grind, to see people fight though the pain and go get the win,” Whitaker said.

Sage Mortimer, who competed in and won her 106-pound match against a boy — the only match of the evening of that kind — said the showcase is generally “not as serious” as other matches throughout the season. But for this one, she found herself closer to Gasser’s mentality.

“This time I was a little bit more for warming up and getting that music and focusing more,” Mortimer said. “But usually I’m just jumping around, just laughing, joking around with my coaches and having a good time.”

Jon Hunt, a senior at Layton High, takes the event as an opportunity to “show off” to his friends and the crowd. Hunt also seemed humbled by being included in the festivities.

“It’s really quite an honor to be here and watch everyone else wrestle, too,” Hunt said.

Isaac Wilcox of Olympus, who is considered the best wrestler in the state in any weight class, won his 160-pound match. He knows many of the competitors who wrestled Tuesday, and gets a kick out of sitting back and taking in the talent on the mat.

“I love watching wrestling, and you can learn from watching other people,” said Wilcox, who is committed to Ohio State. “I know most of the guys out here so it’s just my friends. It’s pretty fun to watch them wrestle.”