UTAH WRESTLING: Unified Developmental Progression
By Bill X. Barron, RMN Events Writer
When a community comes together in celebration of its athletes young and old, its core principle is one of shared purpose. “In Utah, wrestling is a common community-based force that incorporates all ages and represents all areas,” states Craig LaMont, President of Utah USA Wrestling. Utah is a give-it-back and Pay It Forward culture where its wrestling programs renew one another thereby reunifying the base.
In 2000, Brigham Young’s college wrestling team, Utah’s only NCAA-level program at the time, was phased out. Comments Greg Williams, Utah Valley University’s head wrestling coach: “A two-year fundraising push, led by former wrestler Ross Brunson and supported by many of us who joined and donated to the Utah Amateur Wrestling Foundation, did not succeed, but the $150,000 they raised helped start the UVU wrestling program.”
Coach Cody Sanderson led the UVU program for its first three years (2003-06), then was succeeded by Greg Williams from 2006 through the present. Although only in its tenth year qualifying for the NCAA Championships, UVU returns six NCAA qualifiers on a team that many expect to crack the Top 25 before the end of the 2020 season. The Brunson family continues to make a significant financial commitment to the program.
Representative of the state’s unified direction is the way in which the UVU athletes are involved year-round with the youth and high school wrestlers, giving clinics, officiating tournaments, and serving as security at the high school state championships. States Craig: “It’s important that our elite athletes are seen not only competitively but also socially.”
The presence of the Utah Valley Regional Training Center not only allows the best to train and continue their careers in Utah, but just as importantly it provides an opportunity to develop international wrestling skill with top tier coaches at the important younger ages.
From the UVRTC’s mission statement, its vision is to “inspire the Olympic Dream … provide a premier training environment … train, develop, and support future Olympic and World champions – across every age and gender – who call Utah their home.”
In coordination with the local clubs and state organization, UVRTC has sent 17 athletes to world teams, including 6-time world team member Taylor LaMont, also a 4-time Utah state champ and 4X State Outstanding Wrestler, who is now UVU’s starting 133-pounder. Asserts Utah USA Executive Director Jeff Newby: “The goal is to keep people home.” UVRTC is also home to Tate Orndorff, who will compete this October in Hungary on the World U23 Greco Team, and to Dillon Gregerson, a Pan Am gold medalist.
Many national and international caliber wrestlers have coached or trained at the UVRTC. These include: Jade Rauser, UVU’s first 4-time NCAA Qualifier, All-American, and 4-time Montana state champ (175-0); Justin Ruiz, World Cup silver medalist, 10-time U.S. national team member, 3-time Utah state champ (Taylorsville), and former UVU assistant coach; Andrew Hochstrasser, NCAA runner-up and 4th placer for Boise State, 4th in the 2012 Olympic Trials, and 4-time Utah state champ (Toole).
Other athletes associated with the UVRTC include: Will Rowe, 3-time NCAA Qualifier for Oklahoma, 2-time Texas state champ, and current UVRTC head coach; Cyler Sanderson, 2-time NCAA All-American for Iowa State, 3-time Utah state champ (Wasatch), and former UVU assistant; and Ben Kjar, who in 2011 became UVU’s first All-American while overcoming Crouzon syndrome, a cranial facial anomaly.
Like the UVRTC, the UVU wrestling room hosts a number of clinics for the high schools and youth clubs. NCAA and USA Wrestling standards allow elite athletes to interact with youth wrestlers and work out under certain conditions. Utah Wrestling has found a balance within these limitations wherein all levels benefit from and grow with each other.
It is not uncommon to see the Utah Valley University coaches and wrestlers at the youth events, as well the youth level actively support the college programs. Where else do you see head college coaches like Greg Williams at youth tournaments? Between each developmental layer in Utah there is a coordinated effort year-round and a focused tri-level fundraising campaign which culminates in an annual fall banquet wherein the proceeds are shared with every program.
In recognition of the tremendous participation of Utah youth wrestlers in Rocky Mountain National Events, CEO Ed Gutierrez comments: “That's a great service that Utah is providing for both the college and the youth wrestlers. We would love to be involved through donating two free registrations to be auctioned off for the Freak Show, Monster Match, Smash Nationals, and Who’s Bad?”
In the words of Coach LaMont: "USA Wrestling Utah is so grateful for the support of Ed Gutierrez and RMN for their decision to donate to the annual fundraising banquet. We hope that other wrestling businesses will follow suit and make a donation to the auction in support of amateur wrestling.”
“I have had an opportunity to be at some RMN events in the past,” states Coach Williams. “They are exceptionally well-run tournaments and focus on providing a positive and competitive experience for the youth. I have been very impressed with the high level of competition at these events.”
Coach Newby is excited for Utah wrestlers, especially for the Ring of Fame (6 or more RMN tournament titles in one season) members of Team Utah: Dillon Ivie, Austin Paris, and Riker O’Hearon. “So many of our kids hit up RMN events. They enjoy the swag from the creative gear and belts.”
Utah Wrestling is the driving force behind the Western States Event and serves as the official website for the Western Region. Each June, all of the Western states along with Alaska and Hawaii compete at Idaho State University in a competitive week of duals and individual competition in folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco. They welcome other states to join them!
“In Utah, we have a winning dynamic, representing each area of the community,” states Coach LaMont. “We all started as volunteers and are now hiring paid staff. The programs are all cost incentivized and we earn proceeds that are distributed at every level. Everyone wins!”
Grant LaMont, Senior, 157 lbs., Utah Valley University, 3X Utah State Champion (OW) - photo courtesy of UVU Athletics
Austin Paris, Champions Wrestling Club UT
Taylor LaMont, Sophomore, 133 lbs., Utah Valley University, 4X Utah State Champion (4X OW) - photo courtesy of UVU Athletics
Riker O'Hearon, Champion Wrestling Club UT
Tanner Orndorff, Utah Valley University - photo courtesy of UVU Athletics
Dillon Ivie, Team Utah