by Gunnar Smith
The small town of Roy has very big things ahead of them when it comes to high school wrestling. In the past, only one person had ever won a state title as a Royal Wrestler. This year Roy had the opportunity of having multiple athletes wrestle at the state level. One of them, Connor Kirkland, rose all the way to the top.
Kirkland, a senior with a record of 35-0 in the 182 weight class division, says “This is my thirteenth year wrestling, it all started in kindergarten when I was five.” Kirkland has wrestled at Roy High since 9th grade. Last year he finished with a record of 34-6 and took 4th in state in the 160-Division. It wasn’t good enough for Kirkland so he strapped in for a long summer of working out with Coach Santos and getting in the best shape of his wrestling career. This year, he wanted to take state.
Kirkland’s regular season was already something to be proud of. His resume included taking first in the Layton Invitational out of 30 other kids, taking first in the Viewmont Invitational out of 40 schools and taking first in the Richardson Memorial out of 16 schools. He then was one of the main events at the 2015 All-Star match which put Kirkland against the two-time defending state champion Ashton Seely from Juab High School. Despite the odds prevailing against him, Kirkland muscled through with a win of 4-3 at the end of the third round making Kirkland the number one ranked wrestler in his weight class in the whole state and also making him the “man to beat.”
Later in the season, Kirkland matched up against Garrett Hoyt, the number two in the 182 lb. weight division. Hoyt was hungry to face Kirkland once again after suffering a loss earlier in the season at the Layton Invitational with a score of 7-3 in a three round battle. Even though both wrestlers came out confident and ready, this match was not in Hoyt’s favor. Kirkland not only out-wrestled him but out-muscled and out-strategized him 5-2 at the end of the match. It was neck and neck until the third round, but Kirkland came out victorious. It also made Kirkland one of the only Roy High athletes to win against the Weber High wrestling team in this dual meet of old rivals.
For Kirkland, wrestling is number two on his lists of responsibilities as school comes first. Kirkland boasts a 3.9 GPA and an Academic All-Region award on his already impressive list of accomplishments that he has had this year. Kirkland is trying to live up to the nickname the wrestling team gave him – “Goes So Hard.’ Kirkland is a model student for others at Roy High as he shows others that all dreams are reachable as long as you work hard enough.
Once the regular season wound down, Kirkland went on the road to Pleasant Grove and took first in the hostile territory. He matched up against wrestlers from Syracuse, West Jordan and Lone Peak to get into the championship. His next task was to face off against Jacob Rhonton out of American Fork, who Kirkland had already beat in the Viewmont invitational. Kirkland pinned Rhonton early in the second round to win the championship.
The week heading into state, Kirkland had to work to the max. Not having a break, while having to wrestle all his teammates back to back, definitely paid off for Kirkland. It gave him the stamina he needed. On the day of state, Kirkland didn’t psych himself out but remained calm and collected. This was what he had been waiting for all year.
In the first round, Kirkland pinned Matt Williams (West High School) after 1:02. The next match was against Pleasant Grove powerhouse Tavas Neuwirth but Kirkland didn’t let the reputation of Pleasant Grove get to him as Kirkland finished the match with a major decision 10-0, totally man-handling Neuwirth. In the semifinals, Kirkland was up against Bryan Gomez (Hunter high School). In the first minutes of this fierce match, there wasn’t a lot of action as both were dead even. Then, with nine seconds left in the first round, Kirkland got a takedown and pinned the kid with no seconds to spare. A first round pin in the semifinals just proves that Kirkland was ready to win state after all his many years of wrestling.
After all his hard work and victories, Kirkland was finally in the state matchup. “It was amazing” he said, “something that I had dreamed about since I started wrestling 13 years ago.”
For the championship match, Kirkland was pit against a familiar foe, Hoyt from Weber High. Despite beating him earlier, Kirkland remembered what Coach Santos always said, “Never look past an opponent.”
The lights dim and it’s time for the only match that now matters. He hasn’t suffered a loss all year and why change that now? Kirkland knows what it has taken to make it here, all the hours, missed weekends, off season training and now he is ready. The match starts and in the first round all that happens is hand fighting. Being on the defense, as well as offense, then Kirkland gets a takedown giving him two points. Trying to hold on, Hoyt escapes making the score at the end of the round 2-1. In the next round, the battle continues but before the match could get over Kirkland gets another takedown making the score 4-2. In the last round, Kirkland gets a reversal and rolls Hoyt for the rest of the match, even getting an extra point because Hoyt is stalling. The third round ends with a score of 7-2 for Kirkland, making him the new 182-Pound State Champion.
“I loved the season and my team,” Kirkland explains and “I got to share all my success with my brothers on the team who went through everything with me.” He adds, “I never planned on losing but I was surprised that I went undefeated. It doesn’t usually happen.”