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Wasatch County

Wasp wrestlers seek another state championship as culture changes in Wasatch County

WHS wrestling.jpg
Wasatch High School
Wasatch High School wrestlers hoist the 5A Region 9 championship trophy last Thursday at Spanish Fork High School.

The Wasatch High School wrestling team is gearing up to compete next month for a third state title in six years. While the culture around the sport has changed over time, the head coach says winning and his athletes having fun are still the focus.

Wasp wrestlers clinched the 5A Region 9 title last week. They did so by defeating Spanish Fork on Thursday after also beating Provo, Springville, Maple Mountain and Salem Hills. In the weeks to come, they have an opportunity to reclaim the state title.

In 2017, and again two years ago, Wasatch edged out Payson to win state. Last year, there were three individual runners-up for the Wasps, but Payson took the championship. Wasatch Coach Wade Discher says it just wasn’t his team’s year.

This season, he’s telling his players to enjoy themselves as they compete for redemption.

“I think everybody wants to be a state champion, but we don’t focus on that right now,” Discher said. “We just focus on wrestling hard and wrestling a certain style of wrestling. Our style of wrestling - it’s fun. I want the kids to enjoy this, I want them to overcome their fears and have those aspirations of being a state champ and going out there and just doing their best.”

The team’s currently ranked third, just behind Payson in second and Uintah with a comfortable points lead in first. Two Wasatch wrestlers, Ryder Robinson and Heath Clyde, are first in their weight classes, and seven others are in their respective top-fives.

Some of those have competed in Idaho, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida and Virginia already this season. Discher credits a wrestling community in the Heber Valley that backs the team with fundraising events and other support for giving them those opportunities.

Discher first took over as head coach in 1997. He took another job from 2003 to 2008, then returned to Heber and has been the Wasatch coach ever since.

While his program’s legacy is one of the strongest in the state, he said its place in the community has seen some change.

“It’s been part of the tradition of Wasatch County since the 1950s, probably, maybe even a bit before that,” Discher said. “You build that tradition, and then it’s there, but I think as we get bigger, I think we’re losing a little bit of that, too. We still have our strong wrestling community, but there’s a lot of people that don’t even know that we have a wrestling team at the high school anymore. And I’m not kidding you.”

An important figure in the Wasatch High wrestling legacy is Cael Sanderson, who graduated the season before Discher took over. At Wasatch, he won four straight state titles. At Iowa State University, he won four straight national championships, then an Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Sanderson is now the head coach at Penn State University, where he’s won eight of the last 10 national championships.

When Discher started coaching, just after Sanderson’s time, he said the school had 700 students, and now there are 2,600. He said matches aren’t the community events they used to be in his early days.

“It used to be the thing to do in town,” Discher said. “People used to just come out to the wrestling matches, you know, random people or people who lived in the community. We’ve definitely lost a bit of that. It’s more of a blue-collar sport, and we’ve kind of lost some of the farm kids, so I think things are changing a little bit. Times are changing.”

Despite the cultural shift, he said longtime wrestling families in the county still have a strong community that is the foundation for his team’s support system.

Class 5A state divisional matches begin next Friday. State finals will take place two weeks later on Wednesday, February 17.

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