ST. GEORGE — Vince Threlfall joked that it was the biggest building he had ever stepped foot in.
Wall-to-wall, there were 50 wrestling mats. There were only four in the 4A Utah state championships he had participated in in February. For each mat, there were many times more wrestlers from across the United States. If Utah is removed from the mainstream wrestling scene, Southern Utah is even more so. It was an experience foreign to the seven Region 9 representatives at the National High School Coaches Association National Duals.
“It was freaking awesome man,” Threlfall said. “It was mind blowing when I walked in … . It was crazy. I learned a lot. I feel like my wrestling really leveled up just from talking and drilling with a lot of these guys.”
The Duals are an event held at the Virginia Beach Sports Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It hosted 167 teams from across the nation from May 29 through Monday, vying through pool play into championship and consolation brackets.
Region 9’s wrestlers were spread across two Utah teams: Five on Utah Zion and two on Utah Arches. Jaren Marx and Payton Calico of Pine View competed for Arches. Coach and organizer for both teams Joe Gorman said he broke it down by state finishes, putting the higher places on Arches.
Desert Hills’ Nathaniel “Bubba” Fordham and Keagan Boyce joined Crimson Cliffs’ Corbin Hansen and Matthew Martinez and Threlfall, a sophomore at Snow Canyon. Each of the seven finished at least sixth in the Utah state tournament.
Boyce had the greatest success record wise in Virginia Beach, going 3-3 in his 152-pound matches. Marx and Calico went 2-4 for Arches while Hansen, Martinez and Fordham each went 2-3 for Zion. Threlfall went 1-2, but topped Jadon Stephens, Virginia’s Class 6 state champion in the 195 class.
Arches went 2-1 on pool play to advance to the championship bracket on day two, where they went 0-3. Zion took a three-dual sweep on day one to move to the consolation bracket, where they collected a trio of victories.
The teams had their work cut out for them, facing east-coast groups. The benefits weren’t completely results based.
“It’s without a doubt one of the biggest tournaments in the entire country and it’s just a different level of competition,” Gorman said. “A lot of the kids in Utah, they take first, second, third in the state and they think they’re the baddest of the bad. You get them out there with some Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio kids and they realize there’s a lot more work to be done. It just opens their to the national level of competition. I think it just grows them and motivates them as wrestlers.”
Gorman also said a lot of collegiate coaches come just to watch the tournament and keep an eye out for talent. He spoke individually with a coach from Southern Virginia University, which sees a fair share of Utah-raised students as an LDS-aligned school. Canyon View graduate Tyrell Barney was listed on the school’s wrestling roster for the 2019-20 season.
The Utah kids were able to showcase for coaches and hone their craft against some of the best competition the country can offer. Threlfall said he was able to converse with other wrestlers and talk strategy.
“I met a lot of kids that I’m going to be in contact with for a while and I can drill with when I travel and everything,” Threlfall said. “At wrestling tournaments, I like to go around and meet people, learn their best moves and show them mine and stuff. Did a lot of that.”
The trip didn’t just succeed in opening the wrestlers’ eyes, but those that fell on Southern Utah’s wrestlers, as well. Gorman will coach his second year at Riverton High School next season after moving to the Beehive State from Illinois. He said he’s still learning about Utah wrestling but was impressed with what he saw.
“There’s definitely some talent in St. George,” Gorman said. “I feel like it goes overlooked, unfortunately, but I really liked what I saw out of all the kids.”
Gorman said he plans on continuing to build teams out of Utah talent to send to the tournament in future years, a tradition he began while coaching in Illinois.
As for the immediate gains made from the trip, the wrestlers will have to wait until the next winter sports season to showcase them in Region 9 and against each other.
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