ST. GEORGE — Over 500 high school wrestlers hit the mats over the weekend at Desert Hills High School for the annual Days of Thunder Wrestling Tournament.
“There’s about 18 schools here, it’s been going on for a decade,” Desert Hills coach Brian Pace told St. George News. “It’s just something that we’ve done every year for Desert Hills to kind of keep wrestling moving and highlight wrestling this time of year.”
Grapplers from Utah, Colorado and Nevada participated in the tournament, which offered fans a good chance to meet Region 10’s wrestling teams and watch them compete against quality competition.
“We’re just getting mat time and trying to get better every match is the idea here today,” Pace said. “Hopefully if we can get some wins along the way or win a team championship, that’s great, but as long as we’re improving, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Pace said that about 62 kids turned out for wrestling at Desert Hills this year.
“That’s a little bit more than normal,” Pace said. “We’re still in the midst of putting our lineup together, that’s usually what we do for the first couple weeks of the season. Then we get our lineups all solid for January and get ready to roll.”
The quality of the wrestling competition in Region 10 varies, Pace said.
“Every year it seems to be different,” he said. “Everyone in the region is trying to be a consistent team. They’re all competitive and we’re all active and compete well against each other.”
Pace said that Dawson Bundy is a returning state champion that is hoping for another strong season at Desert Hills.
Keagan Boyce finished as a runner up last year and hopes to get another shot at a championship, and Pace said several other Thunder wrestlers have high expectations.
“Our goal is to be number one,” Pace said.
Over at the other end of the gym at one of the three tournament mats, Pine View coach Travis Marx worked with the Panthers.
“We’ve got a young team as far as experience,” Marx said, entering his second season coaching at Pine View. “For a young team there’s a lot of stuff to progress on, but we have a very, very good future.”
With no youth programs or feeder schools with wrestling in the St. George area, the high school athletes in Region 10 who wrestle are often stepping onto the mat for the first time.
“I got a lot of young talent, young kids that are brand new to the sport, first year sophomores and first year juniors,” Marx said. “I just love the attitudes they have and I love the culture we’re creating.”
While not mentioning anyone by name, Marx said there are a handful of Panthers with high hopes this season.
“We’ve got at least six kids that I expect to be state placers,” Marx said. “So we might not be at the top of the podium as a team, but we’ve got some solid talent that does have some experience, so we should have multiple people on that podium.”
The Panthers girls wrestling team doubled in size this year from four to eight wrestlers, Marx said, and the team hired a girls coach as well.
One of those girls, Pine View junior Genesis Diaz, won her match with a pin in the first round Saturday afternoon at the tournament.
“To be honest, I was kind of scared before the match,” Diaz said. “I waited patiently for an opening and then I took my shot and tried to go with it. Kind of challenging.”
Diaz said all eight members of the girls team have the goals of placing at state and having fun.
“I think people are seeing that wrestling is empowering in ways not just for men, like they always see it,” Diaz said. “It’s a great way to learn new skills.”
Diaz started out as a dancer for eight or 10 years before she tried wrestling.
“I think I was looking for a change,” Diaz said. “I remember growing up and watching my brothers and cousins wrestle, and I just thought it was so fun and so cool.”
“And I wanted to feel that exact same thing, just wanted to go through it as well. So I just decided to do it,” she added.
Crimson Cliffs coach Courtney English has coached a national team of girls and his daughters are also wrestlers.
“It’s growing like wildfire right now. There’s so many opportunities for women wrestlers,” English said. “Down here we’re starting to turn a couple heads and people are starting to realize that girls do have this opportunity now, it’s not just for boys.”
Crimson Cliffs has 10 girls on its team this year.
“I think we’re going to see it skyrocket in numbers,” English said. “It’s going to help promote the sport of wrestling pretty much more than anything else.”
Looking ahead at the Mustangs season, English anticipates strong campaigns from Eldon Milton and Corbin Hansen.
“They are our two hammers,” English said. “Both wrestled on the national team and they’re committed to competing for a state championship. They’re fighters. They battle and they have tons of heart.”
English also mentioned Mustangs wrestlers Kayden Madsen, Nic Baum and Ace Layton that are all setting high goals this year.
Over at Dixie, the Flyers will have a strong presence on the mat this year. Sophomore Zion Bringhurst pinned his opponent from Crimson Cliffs in a match at 138 pounds at the tournament Saturday. He said he had a psychological advantage after his opponent was warned for head butting.
“Once I saw he was getting a little angry with the head butt, I knew I had him,” Bringhurst said. “I knew his head was out of the game, that’s why I knew my moment was there. I just had to capitalize on it.”
Bringhurst likes the composition of the wrestling squad at Dixie this year.
“We’ve got a full lineup. At all the weight classes, we’ve got guys there,” Bringhurst said. “We have a pretty solid team this year. We’re going to do good.”
Results of team duals and individual matches at the Days of Thunder Tournament can be found here.
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