All-Star wrestling dual tries tournament within a tournament for three weight classes

The 113, 120 and 138 weight classes competed in bracket-style tournaments for the first time.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lizzie Shunn (Westlake) wrestles Hotaia Valeti (Springville) in the girls 140 division, at the High School All Star wrestling event in Orem, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Orem • The Utah High School All-Star dual is an event that allows the best wrestlers in the state to congregate in an effort to get meaningful practice for the state tournament. Some wrestlers, particularly first-timers, use it as a proving ground.

But with COVID-19 forcing absences and canceled matches throughout the current wrestling season, athletes and teams all over the state won’t be able to get in the maximum amount of bouts allotted to them. So the organizers came up with a tweak for this year’s All-Star event, which was held Tuesday at Telos U.

Because there are multiple elite wrestlers in the 113, 120 and 138 weight classes, six from each class competed in their own tournament within a tournament. Many of them said getting the chance to face multiple wrestlers from their own weight class allowed them to truly measure themselves against the best of the best.

“I liked how they did it just because, plainly, I got to wrestle the best kids and prove that I’m the best in the state at my weight,” said Wasatch High School senior River Wardle, who won the 138-pound class.

Usually, the top two wrestlers from each weight class face each other in the All-Star event and they only have one match. Same with the third- and fourth-best. But, for example, the third-best and top wrestler wouldn’t face off after that.

The 138 class featured six wrestlers who have won 15 state championships between them. Wardle has three of his own. All six wrestlers are also ranked among the top 20 in the Beehive Top 25.

Wardle eclipsed Juab High’s Channing Warner in the final match of the day to win the weight class. He also had to get through Brian Evans of Beaver High.

While not as decorated as the 138 class, the other two weights had their own All-Star champions. Jacob Carson of Pleasant Grove beat Kyison Garcia of Mountain Ridge in the 113-pound final match. Carson said he had never beaten Garcia before, and was glad he got the chance to do it within the new format.

Box Elder High’s Bridger Ricks beat Quade Smith of Layon High. Ricks was also pleased with the tweaked format for this year’s event.

“Some of those weight classes are really deep,” Ricks said. “There’s a lot of good wrestlers in all of them. So I thought it was really cool to see some of the best kids in the state battle it out for that No. 1 spot.”

The common sentiment among the wrestlers in the three weight classes was they’d like to see the mini-tournaments continue in future All-Star duals.

“I think it could grow the sport quite a bit,” Ricks said. “It draws a lot more people to watch the events and it’s a lot more exciting, I would say, to watch.”

Evans won his first match against Westlake’s Jacob Finlinson, but fell to Wardle. While he didn’t get to claim the ultimate bragging rights at the event, he praised the idea of the mini-tournament.

“In my opinion,” said Evans, a three-time state champion, “it was a great idea and whoever came up with it was a genius.”

Jeff Newby, executive directory of USA Wrestling Utah, came up with the idea. He wanted to showcase the depth of the three weight classes, but also wanted to give the wrestlers extra matches due to this season’s coronavirus-related cancellations.

Newby is completely behind the idea of having mini-tournaments in the future. But the decision to make them an official part of the All-Star event is not entirely up to him.

Because each match gets tallied against a wrestler’s official count for the season, the coaches would have to decide if they’re OK with those extra competitions in a normal year.

“I love it. I would love to continue going forward with this,” Newby said. “But it’s really going to come down to what the coaches want and if they’ll do it or not.”