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Midvale Journal

With governor’s mandate, Hillcrest wrestlers pause before hitting the mats

Nov 30, 2020 02:38PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest wrestlers were ready to compete, as they did last year at home against Skyline High, once the two-week health mandate expires. (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High wrestling)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

On what was to be the first day of practice, the Hillcrest High wrestling team was sidelined—along with every other high school sport that wasn’t in a championship run with Gov. Gary Herbert’s COVID-19 mandate of no extracurricular activities for two weeks, which was expected to end Nov. 23.

Before the pandemic mandate, the wrestlers were following health protocols of taking temperatures, completing health symptom checks and wearing masks when they aren’t on the mats, even when they lift weights. 

The mats were sanitized before and after every practice and they had revised their tournaments from two days to just one day and restricted spectators, coach Nick Pappas said. 

“Tournaments are the biggest way for our athletes to get experience and they’re usually the schools’ fundraisers,” he said. “We had hoped to host a youth tournament, but without parents attending and helping, it was canceled. We need our youth team to help make our program grow so we can be competitive.”

The team also sectioned off parts of the mats to reduce additional contact of athletes. It also allowed the team to practice by weight level, including the team’s girl wrestlers.

This is the first year girls wrestling has been sanctioned. In the past, the handful of females would wrestle against the boys, but this year, under the Utah High School Activities Association’s rules, girls will compete against girls. 

Pappas said that some schools will have complete teams, but he expects about the same number at Hillcrest, minus the two who graduated, and the team will be led by sophomore Briona Love.

“Wrestling is wrestling, expect for where you grab; we make sure that is appropriate contact,” he said. 

On the boys’ side, eight wrestlers graduated, but last year’s core freshmen will help fill the holes. He said that seniors, who now have wrestled with him three seasons, will lead on the mats. That includes ranked Max Greenwood, Talon Yates and Tanner Wilde.

Pappas, who has wrestled since elementary school, wrestled for Taylorsville High, graduating in 2011. He also was an all-around athlete playing football and club volleyball.

“I learned about myself and contributed as a member of a team,” he said about wrestling. “I want to give back to the sport I love.”

That includes trying to win back the “Battle of the Ax” against Brighton High on Jan. 28, 2021.

“Last year, we lost a close one, with just nine points in the final match. It was a close one. We’ve only won it a couple of times. Hopefully we will get it. It’s an intense rivalry, and a fun one,” he said.

Region is “pretty good competition,” with the rival Bengals winning it last year. He also sees Murray High, with its deep talent, as a team to beat. East High has state wrestlers returning, Olympus High is “traditionally good with a good feeder program into its high school” and Cottonwood may begin a new friendly rival as his brother, who is coaching the Colts, is building that program.

“Last year, we were toward the bottom of region. We had close duals and won some and lost some, so region can be pretty much open; everyone has a shot,” Pappas said.

As of press deadline, how and if the governor’s mandate will impact the season has yet to be determined. The UHSAA website states: “The UHSAA staff is working in conjunction with the UHSAA Board-of-Trustees and Executive Committee to determine how the winter sports season will proceed when practice and tryouts resume. More information will be made available at a later date.”

“The region is mulling around the possibility of running tri-duals rather than regular dual meets, which doesn't affect us too much, but our schedule will likely be vastly different,” Pappas said. “We're not a program that is going to hurt from not having the opportunity to win a state title, but I have a lot of young wrestlers whose development will greatly be affected if we miss out this season.”

Competition was scheduled beginning with a meet against Olympus on Dec. 3, parents were allowed to attend with assigned seats for contact tracing purposes. 

There are contests every couple days running throughout the winter. In addition to the duals, six tournaments were scheduled. Divisionals were set for early February, with state slated on Feb. 17-18, 2021.

“Divisionals has been great to create parity so we’re getting the best kids into state,” Pappas said. 

However, wrestling teaches student-athletes more than just to win, he added.

“The kids learn what they can handle, it gives them a mentality. There’s a ton of wrestling so there’s a commitment they make from maintaining their weight to performing on their schoolwork,” he said. “It is just you and one other person on the mat and nobody else to blame. It comes down to how you prepare, what you eat, your accountability. It’s an organized fight, not a combat. It shows you what you’re made of. There’s no better high off of adrenaline that having your hand raised after you win and knowing your hard work paid off.”