A year ago, Uno Latu was preparing for the Hunter High rugby season. On Tuesday night, she was at Telos High in Orem competing in her 16th match at the Ross Brunson Utah All-Star Duals wrestling tournament.
The tourney attracted about 120 of Utah’s best high school wrestlers, including 30 girls, who are having the time of their lives in the inaugural year as a Utah High School Activities Association sanctioned sport.
Latu is just one of three girls on Hunter’s squad. She was thrilled to defeat Taimane Fiatoa of Timpview in the 140-pound division.
“My curiosity got the best of me with wrestling,” she said. “I wanted something different. I wanted something aggressive and hard, and wrestling is the hardest sport there is.”
She said about 60 Hunter wrestlers (boys and girls) showed up for the first day of practice, but after a difficult first session, only half returned the next day. But she didn’t feel out of place, even though she has often had to practice against boys to prepare for matches against her own gender.
“The boys told me not to quit,” she said. “I was getting beat up by the boys, but it only made me better.”
The All-Star Duals tourney started 21 years ago and is hosted as a fundraiser for the Utah Valley University wrestling team. The invitations were reduced, and the event was moved off campus this year due to the school’s coronavirus restrictions. This season also marked the first time it included girls. Because of the high talent level, it’s often used as a judge which schools will challenge for the state championship in all divisions.
High school wrestling: A closer look at the 119 participants in the 21st-annual Utah All-Star Duals
Not much is not known about who the best girls teams might be. With just three athletes, Hunter likely won’t generate enough team points even if all if its athletes win. Latu said other Region 2 schools, like Kearns and Cyprus, only have six to seven girls. However, just a few miles south, at Copper Hills, the Grizzlies’ girls program has attracted much more interest, and they noted Westlake High could be a 6A juggernaut.
“We have about 60 girls … and about the same number of boys,” said Westlake assistant coach Jordan Robinson. “We started building it several years ago. We teach the girls the basic (fundamentals) and try to make it fun. They’ve grown to like it, and now we’re seeing it at the varsity level.”
Jeff Newby, a former Boise State and Utah Valley wrestler, created a youth program near his Saratoga Springs home and now leads the Thunder program. As the public address announcer at the All-Star Duals tourney, he saw a few of his wrestlers and learned what it will likely take to challenge for the state tournament next month.
“This has always been a great event, and we’re lucky to have it this year,” he said. “The athletes know it well and some travel a long way to be here.”
In Latu’s case, she is the youngest of eight children and came from the rugby field, too, to challenge herself to try something new and hopes it will be the catalyst to help her earn a state championship trophy in her new sport.