As fall leaves slowly blanket the frozen valley floor, lights turn on in high school gyms as Sanpete teams prepare for the 2021-22 wrestling season.
The three local teams prepare for the upcoming season with different goals in mind, looking back where they came from and looking forward to where they can go. With two of the three teams starting out the season with new coaches, the future possibilities are endless.
Though the stadium lights of the football field may be dimmed, the fire and frenzy of Sanpete wrestling is just around the corner.
Hunter Whitney is the new coach of Bulldog Wrestling this year. He grew up in Gunnison Valley and went to school at Gunnison High.
“I am a Bulldog through and through,” he said.
After high school he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Vancouver/BC, Canada. Upon returning he married his wife Mckell and they currently have a beautiful nine month old baby girl, Holland Rose. They are currently living in Auroa, where Mckell is from.
Hunter said that he is looking forward to growth with his team. Not only physically, but this year the coaches are pushing mental strength and durability.
The Bulldogs bring back three state placers from last year, Tezlin Winn, Jake Sorenson and Will Wescott.
“We have a fantastic team this year with a lot of potential,” said Whitney.
He said that the obvious top wrestler is Winn, a senior, who has been a two-time state runner-up in his high school career and is looking to bring home a gold medal this year. Others that look to have great potential of pushing to the finals on the team are Sorenson (junior), Wescott (senior), and Jerrit Anderson (sophomore).
When asked why he coaches wrestling, Whitney said that he “loves” that question. He said that he was never the best wrestler, nor did he ever place at state. If someone watched the team during his years of wrestling (2012-2016) he said he would never truly have stood out.
“You can be assured that I am not coaching because I think I can teach them a thing or two about wrestling,” he said.
Whitney said he is coaching because technique is not what you are going to take with you when you finish your academics in high school. So many more things are learned in the sport of wrestling and one of the greatest is breaking the mental barrier. Breaking the “I cant’s” and turning them into “I will’s”. Breaking the mental barrier of “tragedy” and turning it into “triumph.”
The team’s moto this season is “Be Ready.” They chose this because most matches are determined off the mat. This includes being ready in school to make sure they can actually attend the match, being ready in weight to make sure they can actually wrestle at that weight, and also being ready before you step on the mat.
“You will notice this year our team is going to compete very well physically, but ultimately in a lot of matches, win or lose, we will be stronger mentally,” Whitney said.
The Bulldogs will be kicking off their season at home on Tuesday Nov. 30 in a duel against Alta and South Sevier. Wrestling will begin at 4 p.m. at Gunnison Valley High School.
Kris King may be a new face to coaching, but he is well known as one of the more successful wrestlers to come out of North Sanpete.
Coach King was raised in Fairview and wrestled at North Sanpete High School for four years. His senior year he was undefeated with a record of 43 wins and the state champion in his weight division. He graduated with the Hawks class of 1998. He has been married to his best friend for 16 years and they have three kids, Krew (14), Emma (9) and Kyler (3).
The Hawks have two returning state placers from last year, Kylan Taylor and Kasey Curtis.
“As seniors this year I expect to see both of them in the state finals,” he said.
King said that there are two more seniors on the team that expects to see on the state podium, Porter Taylor and James Gren. Cody Dyches and Krew King, both freshman, are also expected to put on a good show throughout the season and at state.
“We have a really new team and it is very possible that we could end up with three to five additional kids being able to place at state,” he said.
The Hawks have around 30 kids in the room every day at practice and King expects 95 percent of them will finish the season.
He said that the team is really focusing on conditioning and basics and with those two things the team will surprise a lot of people throughout the season.
King has always loved the sport of wrestling and said he owes all of his success to Blake Turner, who was his high school coach. He wants to be a positive influence for these young men and try to help them not only be great wrestlers, but also great citizens.
“I hope in the future they will feel like I helped them as much as Coach Turner helped me,” he said.
The Hawks will take to the mat at home on Dec. 1 against Juab at 7 p.m. to start off their new season.
Coach Ryan Fowles is as seasoned as a coach can come when it comes to wrestling. Fowles has been coaching for several years and loves every minute of it.
“I coach because in ways it feels like I get to contribute to society in a positive way,” he said.
His team really feels like family and accepts him for who he is, he said. The wrestling room is a safe place for everyone in there to learn and grow.
The Templars have roughly 25 young men in their room this season and Fowles said that each one stands out and contributes to the team in their own way.
Two state placers from last season will be returning this year with promising outlooks on the season. Kelon Layton and Kayden Blackham look to find their place on the podium yet again this year with other teammates.
“Our team theme for the year is still a work in progress,” said Fowles.
The Templars will kick of their season against the Emery Spartans in Castle Dale on Nov. 24 at 2:30 p.m.