A handful of Longhorn wrestlers, most notably heavyweight Blair River, are struggling to round into peak wrestling condition with one of the season's premier events -- the Rim Country Duals -- set for this weekend in Wilson dome.
The delay some of the team members faced in preparing for the season was created by the long football season that culminated Nov. 28 with the Horns winning the Class 3A state championship.
Without the traditional preseason conditioning, the former football players-turned-grapplers have had only limited sessions to train.
River, a senior, was a 6-foot, 7-inch, 310-pound nose guard for the football team and is struggling to drop to the 275-pound weight limit to participate in the heavyweight division.
He faced almost the same dilemma last season but because the football team was eliminated in the state quarterfinals, he had two full weeks to lose the weight.
River has been dieting but has not yet reached the minimum poundage. He says he expects to soon. Whether he will eligible to participate in the upcoming duals will depend on weight loss results this week.
Jimbo Armstrong, an all-division linebacker in football has been participating in the 189-pound class. However, his optimum weight class might be 171 if he chooses to lose the weight.
Several other grapplers could change weight classes to give the Horns the best line-up possible.
Five-way in Wilson dome
The Horns tuned up for the Rim Country Duals in a home-debut, five-team match contested Dec. 9.
On hand for the challenge were Globe, Ganado, Orme, Mesquite and Payson.
On two mats in Wilson dome, the match format paired teams against one another in five rounds of dual meets. In each round, one team drew a bye.
In round one, Payson pounded Ganado 66-13. Later rounds saw the Horns whip Mesquite 72-12, Globe 75-3 and Orme 40-6.
Against Mesquite, Payson was fueled by wins on falls from Justin Cline (119), R.C. LaHaye (125), Caleb Miller (135), Levi Armstrong (140), Dusty Wright (145), Doyle Van Horn (152), Mike Armstrong (160), Jared Smith (171), and Jimbo Armstrong (189).
One of the most exciting matches of the afternoon occurred in the 135-pound class win over Ganado.
Payson's entry, Miller -- a sophomore with loads of wrestling experience -- found himself trailing 5-0 at the end of two periods to Hornet Anthony Peshlakia.
In the crucial third stanza, Miller recorded his first points on a takedown to close the count to 5-2.
Even though Miller was dominating his opponent, time -- and the opportunity for more points -- was quickly running out. Eyeing the dire straits his wrestler was in, Horn coach Dennis Pirch quickly signaled for Miller to allow his opponent to go free. To some, possibly even Miller, the decision seemed off beat.
But the 1997 National High School Coach of the Year was relying on a strategy that would give his youngster the best chance at victory.
Although, the escape lengthened Peshlakia's lead to 6-2, Miller quickly recorded another takedown to close the score to 6-4.
Then, with 5:19 expired and Miller in complete control of his foe, he completed the comeback by pinning an obviously upset Peshlakia for a six-point Horn victory.
"(Good) coaching won that one," an onlooker said as Miller's arm was elevated in victory by the match referee.
Throughout the competition, the Horn coaching staff rotated athletes into weight classes in an attempt to give them valuable experience and also evaluate their skills for upcoming competition.
One of the more promising new comers turned out to be freshman Levi Armstrong who won both matches he compete in.
His victories came on a fall over a Mesquite foe and a major decision on a Globe opponent.
In the 171-pound class, junior Ben Gartner -- who was a jayvee performer last season -- recorded two victories by falls. Both came early in the first period.
Defending 215-pound state champion Mike Barker, a Horn stalwart, wrestled but one match and that was the heavyweight division. There, he had little trouble recording a 21-2 decision over his Globe opponent.
In addition to the upcoming Rim Country Duals, the Horns will be in action this event, Tuesday, in Eloy against Fountain Hills, Coolidge and Santa Cruz. The match is set to begin at 2 p.m.