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SPORTS - “Three Bear River girls' team wrestlers will take their talents to the next level”

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Shanna Archuleta, Hailey Branch and Sophie Miller

BEAR RIVER HIGH - By Tate Atkin, Headliner Sports Editor, June 24, 2022

While girls' wrestling is still in its infancy as far as Utah High School Activities Association sanctioned sports go, don't think that just because the sport is new for Utah high schools that it isn't already a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Bear River High's girls' wrestling, it's absolutely a force to be reckoned with.

Girls' wrestling was officially sanctioned by the UHSAA starting in the 2020-21 school year. For the Bear River High girls' wrestling program their second season, which wrapped up in February, showed the Lady Bears dominating on the wrestling mat finishing the 4A state tournament with a second-place finish as a team while crowning five individual state champions.

And now, three members of the girls' wrestling team, and recently graduated seniors from Bear River High, will continue their education and wrestling careers as they have signed to wrestle at the collegiate level - and they aren't the first female wrestlers from Bear River to do so.

Carisa Epling, a 2021 graduate of Bear River High, recently finished her freshman year at Colorado Mesa University where she was Academic All-American wrestler for the university's girls' wrestling team. Epling is currently preparing for her second year of college wrestling.

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Carisa Epling (left), January 2022 - Photo courtesy of Colorado Mesa University

As for the Class of 2022 at Bear River High, coming off a state championship win this past season, Shanna Archuleta has signed to wrestle at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. Archuleta started wrestling her sophomore year, a year before the girls' wrestling team at Bear River High was started.

Archuleta started wrestling because of her love of the sport and credits a lot of her success to coaches Caleb Hardy and Randy Hatch for the time they both invested in her by helping her improve and for all they taught her about wrestling.

Reflecting on her state championship, Archuleta said, "Being a state champion is just a title, but it does show how much hard work and dedication I have to this sport and how those things pay off."

"It can be mentally exhausting and sometimes you’ll feel drained. It’s a part of a mental battle that has to be fought to be tough. Being mentally tough is going to get you far on the mat and in life," Archuleta added.

As she prepares for college wrestling, Archuleta is excited about the new opportunity to wrestle while paving a path for younger female wrestlers.

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Shanna Archuleta, 4A state wrestling finals, February 2022 - Photo by Lexi Capener

Shanna Archuleta, January 2022 - Photo by John Hurley

After finishing the 4A state tournament as the runner-up in her weight division, Hailey Branch is excited for the opportunity to continue wrestling as she will wrestle at Snow College in Richfield, Utah. She can't wait to meet new people and create that bond with her new teammates that she has made with her teammates at Bear River High during her high school wrestling career.

Branch started wrestling three years ago because it was something her father and brother did and wanted to try it for herself. At first, she had a lot of people tell her she couldn't do it, but she was eager to prove them wrong. However, when her coach Randy Hatch saw what she was capable of in the wrestling room he told her she was a natural and she quickly gained the confidence as well as the support she needed to be successful.

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Hailey Branch, 4A state wrestling tournament, February 2022 - Photo by Cari Doutre

Hailey Branch, December 2021 - Photo by John Fronk

Branch used her prior wrestling knowledge and experience by helping new wrestlers on the Bear River High girls' wrestling team succeed. It also helped make history and pave the way for future generations to come.

When talking about her two biggest supporters, Branch said that both Coach Hatch and Tassie Hatch, his daughter and Branch's friend and teammate, have been there through her entire wrestling journey.

"They were there when I first started wrestling and have been by my side ever since. They show so much support and I know they will continue to even though I will be at college. I wouldn't be the wrestler I am today without their coaching. I would just like to thank them for everything they have done the past couple years," Branch said.

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Sophie "Houdini" Miller, also 4A state runner-up, will join her fellow teammate Branch at Snow College this fall as she too joins the Badger girls' wrestling program. As a two-year member of the Bear River High girls' wrestling team, Miller also helped pave the way for future female wrestlers at Bear River High.

But it's no surprise that Miller took up wrestling once it became a high school sanctioned sport in Utah.

Like many wrestlers at Bear River High, wrestling is a family business for the Millers. Sophie not only joins her father and two brothers all high school wrestlers, but was also coached by her mother Kayla Miller, an assistant coach on the girls' wrestling team at Bear River High.

A former member of the cheer team at Bear River High, Miller decided to leave the pom-poms behind and help Jason Bingham, head coach for the Bear River High girls' wrestling team, start the girls' wrestling program in 2020.

Looking back, Miller is happy with her decision to join the girls' wrestling team and made many great friends and experiences along the way. Her favorite memories include winning her semi-finals match at the 4A girls' wrestling state tournament this past February, ironically held at Snow College in Richfield, and celebrating that win with everyone. She was excited to celebrate everything the team had accomplished that season and all the hard work they put in.

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Sophie Miller, December 2021 - Photo by John Fronk

Sophie Miller, January 2022 - Photo by John Hurley

Miller credits Coach Bingham for her success and for helping her get on the Snow College girls' wrestling team.

"He has always been there for me since day one. He wanted me to wrestle even before there was a girls' team. He knows what is going through my head before I even do. He is a great coach and like my second dad," Miller said.

Before heading off to college and continuing their wrestling careers, each athlete shared a piece of advice for younger girls who are considering joining the wrestling team.

"Just do it. Dive all the way in. You won't regret it. Just keep in mind it is a mentally and physically challenging sport that will show you parts of yourself you didn't even know existed," Archuleta said.

Branch would tell anyone interested that, "There are going to be a lot of haters but proving them wrong is worth it. Another thing is that even though you feel like quitting, keep going because it will get better, and your coaches will be there to help you. There is nothing you cannot do. Nothing is impossible. Everyone can be beat."

Miller's advice is this, "If it even pops into your head, then go for it. It's one of the hardest but best decisions you will ever make. But if do, do it and don't you dare give up. Give your all and go the extra mile the whole entire time. You're not going to walk out there and be the best one on the mat. It takes a lot more time than you want it to so be patient."

These three athletes have left their mark on Bear River High athletics and will forever be part of this historic team. While they leave behind their high school wrestling careers, they still have a lot to prove on the college wrestling mat - and they're all ready to do just that.


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