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The City Journals

Murray wrestling coach has secret weapon this season: his ninth-grade daughter

Dec 10, 2018 03:55PM ● By Carl Fauver

Freshman Elleni Johnson has set a goal to become only the second Murray High School female wrestler to finish an entire season. Her father, Theros Johnson is the Spartans’ head coach. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Fresh off one of their more successful football seasons in years, 10 of the Murray High School grid players have turned their attention to wrestling this winter, under the guidance of one of their football assistant coaches.

In the wrestling room Theros Johnson is the head coach, entering his third season at the helm of the Spartan wrestling program.

“My first year as head wrestling coach here at Murray we had three athletes qualify for the state tournament, but none of them placed in the top six,” Johnson said. “Then last year we had four qualify for state, and one of them placed (top six). So, we made a nice jump in improvement a year ago and are hoping to do the same thing this season.”

Those three returning qualifiers from last year’s team — all seniors and team captains this time around — are Christian Alvarez, Mason Holman and Cannon Taylor. Cannon, in fact, has qualified for the state tournament for the past two years.

“I began wrestling, on and off, back in elementary school,” Cannon said. “I am much stronger and more coordinated going into this season. My goal is to place in the top six at state this season.”

Mason had two wins and two losses in last year’s state wrestling tournament and was eliminated just one round short of placing. He believes, with a couple of breaks he could get all the way to the 5A state championship match next February. But he takes as much or more pride in his academic accomplishments as he does in his on-the-mat efforts.

“I was just named our (Murray High School) 2019 Sterling Scholar in Skilled and Technical Sciences Education so I am very proud of that,” Mason said. “We have a pretty unique homebuilding class that I have been in for two years, which helped prepare me to apply for the Sterling Scholar. By next spring we will have completely built a 4,400-square-foot home.”

Christian is a three-sport Murray athlete, having just completed the Spartans’ football season a couple of weeks before the start of wrestling. In spring he will join the MHS track team.

“I ran into a couple of tough opponents at state last year and did not win a match,” Christian said. “My goal is to place this year and I think, if we work hard, our whole team can be better.”

Johnson brings a lot of coaching experience back to the sideline this winter. In addition to this third season as the Murray head wrestling coach, Johnson was the head coach at Olympus High School for nine seasons, where his Titan teams earned three region titles.

And this season he brought a secret weapon along with him. Elleni Johnson, 14, is the coach’s freshman daughter who attends Hillcrest Junior High School across State Street from Murray High. She hopes to become only the second female wrestler to ever complete a Spartan season, following in the footsteps of Bailey Robinson who graduated nearly a decade ago.

“I have been around wrestling my whole life and enjoyed competing with my younger brother,” she said. “This winter I plan to compete for both the wrestling and swim teams.”

After being on a competitive dance team for seven years, Elleni told her dad she wanted to switch to wrestling. At first Johnson wasn’t overly excited. But as his daughter got into it, she became good enough to place sixth in a national all-girls wrestling tournament last summer in Texas.

“I certainly did not push her into (wrestling),” Johnson said. “In fact, when she first said she wanted to quit her dance team, we wouldn’t allow it until she finished out that season. But she was determined to give this a try and she’s doing pretty well.”

Ironically, coaching his child in wrestling is exactly what Theros Johnson’s father did a quarter of a century ago. M.J. Johnson was the Taylorsville High School head wresting coach during his son’s career there. When Theros was a senior in 1994, he and his Warrior teammates placed second in state.

A year ago, the Spartan wrestlers placed second in Region 6. Their only dual meet loss was to Highland High School.  

“This team has the talent to make another step forward if they work hard for it,” Johnson concluded. “Wrestling is a combat sport and one of the oldest sports in recorded history. I enjoy working with these athletes to improve their skills.”