February 16, 2010
Last Dec. 2, during a match against a wrestler from Orem High School, Park City High School (PCHS) senior Justus Minardi fractured his back in four places.
End of season? End of wrestling career?
Not even close. You may have seen, in last Sunday’s edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, a photo of that same Justus Minardi battling Jace Abbott of Delta High School for the 3A state championship in the 130-pound weight class.
Immediately after the injury, the prognosis looked bleak. According to wrestling coach Brenan Cole, doctors told Minardi that his season was over. But Minardi wasn’t convinced.
"After the Christmas break he loves being active — he went to see the doctor again," Cole said. His doctor ultimately left the decision to return to wrestling up to Minardi and his parents.
"He and his parents came to the conclusion that he was ready and able," Cole said.
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Still, his coaches were careful, advising Minardi to stop if he felt even the slightest twinge of pain. "We took a lot of precautions," Cole said. "Luckily, everything worked out in his favor."
After his return to competition in mid-January, he had only about a month to prepare for the state tournament.
"He really made improvements a whole year’s worth in that month," said Doug Payne, assistant wrestling coach.
At the state championships Feb. 12-13 at Utah Valley University in Orem, Minardi had to win three matches to reach the championship round. He won his quarterfinal match in the last seconds over a junior varsity wrestler from Delta High School’s powerhouse program.
In the semifinals, Minardi faced a wrestler from Carbon High School who had beaten him by 10 points earlier in the season.
"He (Minardi) wrestled his heart out," Cole said. "I told Justus that this kid was going to wrestle not to lose and that he (Minardi) needed to wrestle to win."
As Cole predicted, the Carbon wrestler tried to run out the clock and was penalized for stalling four different times. Minardi eventually won the match in overtime.
In the championship match, Minardi was leading 4-1 going into the second period but ultimately lost 6-5. "It was heartbreaking," Cole said.
"In that last match he was right there," Payne said. "He could easily have taken first. All he needed was a takedown."
To no one’s surprise, Delta High School won the team title and Wasatch High School finished second. Both Delta and Wasatch have ongoing junior programs that give the schools a large pool of polished wrestlers to draw from. Park City High School, whose coaches are often faced with cultivating raw talent, finished 14th.
"We were certainly pleased with our finish," Payne said. "Fourteenth is the highest we’ve ever finished (as a team) and it’s the first time since ’97 we’ve had a state finalist."
The only other Park City wrestler to place at state was Brandon Woolstenhulme, who finished sixth in his weight class.
Minardi is one of eight seniors on this year’s team. (The others are Cash Knight, Mitch Freckleton, Cole Quitquit, Colin Root, Gianno Spera, Andy Richardson and Maddi Magee.) That means that next year to use one of the oldest clichés in the sportswriter’s handbook will be a rebuilding year. But Payne is optimistic that the team has a good pool of returning talent led by Woolstenhulme (who is on track to graduate early but may return for his senior year), Devon Maddux, Lucas Anderson and Patton Magee.
"He (Magee) claimed not to like wrestling," Payne said. "But he was really good for a first-year wrestler."
Cole said he hopes to triple the number of wrestlers in the local junior program next year and, with the blessing of the new high school football coach, to recruit some football players.
"We’ve got some plans in the works to bring wrestling back into the forefront of people’s minds instead of being a last resort," he said.