Streak On The Line In Tucson

PHS wrestling squad facing pair of tough 5A foes

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Will 1998 go down in sports annals as the year of the streak busters?

It might, based on the results of eye-popping outcomes of the past few weeks.

At Mesa College on Nov. 28, the underdog Payson Longhorns put an end to Blue Ridge's state record 64-game football win streak.

One week later, Phoenix Brophy-- which had never beaten Mountain View -- ended the Toro's Class 5A record win streak of 34 games.

Tomorrow (Saturday), the Payson Longhorn wrestling team will take its 77-match winning streak to Tucson, where it will face the greatest of perils.

For the Longhorn victory run to continue, the Payson grapplers will have to whip Arizona's two top-ranked Class 5A teams -- Sunnyside and Salpointe -- and Hanks El Paso, a top-four large-school squad in Texas.

Sunnyside has dominated the 4A and 5A ranks, winning 16 big-school state wrestling championships in the past 20 years. Under coach Bobby DeBerry, the school has won 10 straight state titles.

The current squad boasts of six nationally-ranked wrestlers and is rated the best high school team in the western United States by Wrestling USA magazine.

The magazine also ranks Sunnyside 11th among the "winningest high school teams of the decade."

As potent as Sunnyside is, its Tucson neighbors at Salpointe might have a stronger team.

The Lancers have more state placers returning to their lineup for the 1998-99 season than does Sunnyside. Salpointe is also the Arizona Wrestling Coaches' poll favorite to win the 5A state championship.

Hanks is an unknown in Arizona, but in its homestate is considered one of the premier programs, PHS coach Dennis Pirch said.

Rendering the Horns' task in Tucson even more formidable is the fact many of the team members are not yet in top wrestling form because of the lengthy football season.

The former gridders, who had no preseason wrestling training, will have only about eight practice sessions to their credit when the team travels to Tucson. A few, including heavyweight Blair River, haven't reached their optimum weight level for competition.

Horns rich in tradition
There's no doubt about it: Salpointe, Sunnyside and Hanks are the tough guys on the block. None of the three is going to shyly step aside and let a small 3A school kick sand in their singlets.

But don't feel sorry for the Horns -- they didn't just fall off a turnip truck.

The team will take to the southlands a winning tradition that includes six state championships in 10 years and two runner-up finishes. The team was 23-0 in duals last year and has won 88 tournaments since its inception in 1974.

Pirch was named National High School Coach of the Year last spring and the team is ranked 36th in USA Wrestling's "Winningest High School Teams of the Decade."

The 1998 lineup also sports two defending state champions in 160-pound Jimbo Armstrong and 215-pound Mike Barker.

Runner-up at Verde Valley
The Horns added seven triumphs to their winning streak at the 5th annual Verde Valley Duals tournament held Dec. 4-5 in Camp Verde.

Despite finishing unbeaten, the team had to settle for an runner-up honors in the 16-team field behind Mingus High School.

The tournament format divided the field in two eight team pools. Payson was aligned in pool B and finished a perfect 7-0.

In pool A, Mingus also finished 7-0.
To determine an overall champion, officials reverted to points scored during the two days of competition. Mingus emerged as the champ with 609.5 points. Payson tallied 580.5 points. The two teams did not meet head to head.

But the two schools, who are rapidly building a strong rivalry, are scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Jan. 6 in Wilson dome.

From that fray, a true champion will emerge.

The athletes
Pacing the Horns to the triumphs in Camp Verde were five tournament weight-class champions, including R.C. LaHaye (125 pounds), Caleb Miller (135), Justin Davis (189) and Barker (215).

Mike Armstrong (160) advanced to the championship match but lost a 7-3 decision to a Duncan wrestler.

Third-place finishers from Payson included Aaron Bratholt (112), Justin Cline (119), Levi Armstrong (140) and Doyle Van Horn (152).

Mike Wright (145) was fifth, Jerod Smith (171) seventh and Chad Henderson (275) eighth.

The only weight class the Horns were shut out in was 103 pounds.

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