Murray High School wrestler Christensen is the first Spartan state champion in 24 yearsApr 12, 2021 09:59AM ● By Carl Fauver
Murray High School 145-pound wrestler Conway Christensen is the Spartans’ first grappling State Champion since 1997. (Photo courtesy Joanne Christensen)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
The third time was the charm for Murray High School wrestler Conway Christensen, who earlier this year was crowned the Spartans’ first state wrestling champion in 24 years. Twice previously—at the end of his sophomore and junior wrestling seasons—Christensen advanced to the state semifinal match only to lose. Both of the decisions were controversial, leaving Conway with a chip on his shoulder this senior season.
“His strongest asset is his mental toughness,” said fifth-year head wrestling coach Theros Johnson. “Those semifinal losses the last two years came in some questionable circumstances. If everything was fair in love and war, Conway should have been a three-time state finalist and two-time state champion. I’m so happy and proud he won it this year.”
Coach Johnson, by the way, still has a daughter attending and wrestling for a prestigious private boarding high school in Pennsylvania. An update on Elleni Johnson’s drive to become an Olympic wrestler follows the recap of Christensen’s championship season.
Wrestling at 145 pounds, Christensen won four matches in one day (Feb. 18, at Wasatch High School in Heber City), to claim his state championship. He’s the first Murray High School state champion since Russ Thompson earned the crown at 160 pounds, in 1997. Russ is the brother of Spartan head football coach Todd Thompson.
“It feels awesome to take state,” Christensen said. “The number of fans was limited (at the state finals, due to coronavirus), but my mom, dad and grandpa were all able to attend. It was great to have them there. In my four years (wrestling for Murray High) my record was 157 wins and 45 losses. This season it was 42-7.”
Christensen was undefeated all season against other Utah 5A wrestlers. But his seven losses (to Utah wrestlers in other classifications and out of state wrestlers) came in rapid succession, over a two-week period. Johnson says it was another test for his top wrestler’s confidence.
“That was a tough time for Conway, because he was wrestling some of the best kids in the country,” the coach said. “But I reminded him, his goal wasn’t to go undefeated but to win the state championship. And he bounced back, just like he always has.”
Christensen was one of nine Murray wrestlers to qualify for this year’s state championship, the most Johnson has taken to the finals in his five years as head coach. The school’s only other placer was sophomore Isaac Orrock at 132 pounds.
“We had four seniors, three juniors and two sophomores qualify for the state tournament,” Johnson added. “So, five of the nine will return to the team next season. They all showed improvement during the year. I’m looking forward to next season.”
In his two previous trips to the state wrestling finals—both years competing at 138 pounds—Christensen placed third as a sophomore and fifth, a year ago.
Rigorous COVID-19 testing throughout the season helped to keep the Murray wrestling lineup almost completely intact. But despite all their best precautions, two Spartan wrestlers did test positive for the virus. They were each able to return to the team after two-week quarantines.
Christensen hopes he’s not done wrestling competitively, even though high school graduation is looming in two months.
“I’d like to be able to wrestle in college and would like to move out of state to do it,” Christensen concluded. “But I will be leaving on a (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) mission in June or July, so it will be after that. I plan to work out and stay in shape while I am gone for two years.”
The oldest of five siblings, Christensen is looking forward to his next challenges. And he’s proud to have “that poster on my wall”—the Class 5A 145-pound state championship bracket.
While guiding his Spartan team to their best season in his half-decade at the helm, coach Johnson also spent as much time as he could tracking the wrestling success of his own daughter, Elleni. As a freshman two years ago, the younger Johnson competed on her father’s boys’ team. She was only the second Murray High School female wrestler to complete a full season with the team.
But by the time her next season rolled around, last year, Elleni had already moved to Kingston, Pennsylvania (north of Philadelphia) to attend the prestigious Wyoming Seminary. With one of the few girls’ high school wrestling programs in the country Johnson had earned an athletic scholarship to join them.
Now, almost two years after that move, Johnson says his daughter continues to thrive.
“COVID interrupted their schedule this year, and she was not able to travel as much to compete,” he explained. “But she was able to attend a top wrestling training program in Chicago for two weeks. And Elleni was also invited to wrestle at a ‘superstar’ event in South Dakota last July. Oh, one of her own coaches also came out here to Utah to train with her for a week.”
Elleni Johnson still hopes to qualify for the United States Women’s Wrestling Olympics Team, most likely in 2028. Her next prestigious competition is later this month.
“The World (Wrestling Federation) team trials are in April,” Elleni said, speaking from her Pennsylvania school. “If I win that tournament, I will be on the World team. If I place second, I would qualify for the Pan American games. But we still aren’t sure whether either of those events will be held (due to coronavirus).”
Elleni is wrestling this season at 62 kilos (136.7 pounds). She previously placed sixth in the World Wrestling tryouts, twice, when she was in eighth and ninth grades. At that time, she was still living in Utah and being coached by her father. Coronavirus wiped out last year’s World tryouts.
With barely more than a year left to attend Wyoming Seminary, Elleni is already considering her post-high school options.
“Coming here (to Pennsylvania) was one of the best decisions I have ever made; I definitely love it here,” she said. “I want to remain in the East to attend college. I plan to continue wrestling. But I don’t necessarily have to attend a school with a women’s wrestling team, in order to do that. So, I am still not sure what is next.”
Her father reports there are 60 collegiate women’s wrestling programs across the country, at all different levels. But with club wrestling programs also growing for females, he says Elleni can stick with her passion regardless of where she goes to school.
For now, Theros Johnson will keep talking with his daughter by phone…watch as many of her matches as he can online…and begin to make plans for his sixth season as Murray High School’s head wrestling coach.