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Sugar House Journal

Highland wrestling looks to bounce back from tough year

Jan 03, 2022 16h10 ● By Josh McFadden

Senior Zo Sua, at 138 pounds, takes part in the Syracuse Scuffle, pinning an opponent with a headlock.

To say the last 21 or so months have been strange is a gross understatement. 

The COVID pandemic has affected, and continues to affect, many aspects of life. Though the Highland wrestling team got in a full season last year, there were fewer participants on the squad than head coach Swede Robinson would like to have. Low numbers made it a rough season for the Rams, but Robinson is optimistic. 

“Last season we had a very low participation rate and did not bring in many newcomers to the program,” Robinson said. “We have seen a good uptick this season in participation. We have a lot of new young wrestlers.” 

With the new team members, Robinson acknowledges that the Rams could experience some growing pains and have their work cut out for them. He said Highland will need some time to be competitive. Still, he does have eight returning wrestlers who work hard and have a positive attitude. 

Despite the challenges ahead, Robinson maintains high expectations. 

“Our expectations are similar to each season in that we want to be the best wrestling team in Salt Lake City, we want to be in the hunt for a region title and qualify as many wrestlers as we can into the state tournament,” he said. “Hopefully, we have some wrestlers that can improve well enough to place in state this year. The 5A state tournament is by far the most difficult in [Utah high school] wrestling.” 

The Rams’ top-ranked wrestler is Connor Straessler, a junior in the 175-pound weight class. He was one match shy of placing last season. Robinson is working on getting him back to health so he can return to competing at an elite level. Some notable seniors are Isaac Simpson (a 175-pound returning state qualifier), Riley Townley (126 pounds), Zo Sua (138 pounds) and Joaquin Gonzalez (132 pounds). Each of them are experienced wrestlers, and Robinson is looking to them for their experience and leadership for his young team. 

Robinson also has a girl on the squad. 

“We even have some female wrestlers starting to come out this season,” he said. “An up-and-coming wrestler with some talent is freshman Nehemiah Cook (135 pounds). She is showing some good potential to our program.”

Though young and lacking experience, the team does have some strengths that Robinson is excited about. He said the wrestlers are eager to learn and progress. 

“COVID put stress on all of us in different ways,” he said. “There is a renewed sense of optimism within the team to compete and build to a brighter future. We are learning what is means that in this sport that everything is earned and not given. We have some good returning wrestlers that are helping to teach our young ones how to build into that champion mindset.”

Robinson also praises his coaching staff for the support his assistants give the wrestlers. Coaches Aldo Gutierrez, Vaea Fiefia and Paul Tate each comes a wealth of experience and skill to help the team achieve its best.

As for success, Robinson said that will hinge on how well his wrestlers compete in postseason action. He also is looking beyond this season, hoping the program can take the next step to competitiveness. 

“A successful season will be getting our seniors to the state tournament and fighting for a place on the podium,” he said. “As a team, we are going to be growing and building for the future. We have many young wrestlers that do not fully realize their potential. A successful season will be for us to create that reality that they can become what we see in them as coaches. Keeping our numbers in the room up and staying healthy will be paramount to our success. Our program is all about creating outstanding young people that have a skill set to approach their post-graduation lives with success and an ability to overcome adversity.”