Longhorn Wrestlers Back To Winning

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Just as Forrest Gump couldn't stop running, the Payson Longhorn wrestling team won't give up its winning ways.

Sure, the Horns had their 81 dual-match winning streak ended by Salpointe and Sunnyside Dec. 12 in Tucson. But only days later another winning streak was off and running with a trio of Central Division victories in Santa Cruz.

The new streak reached 18-0 when the Horns won eight consecutive matches and the championship of the Rim Country Duals Team Tournament Dec. 18-19 in the Wilson dome.

In the 14-team tournament, the format had the squads divided into pools "A" and "B" for a series of six matches.

In pool A, Apache Junction finished 6-0 with 329 team points. Over in pool B, Payson also finished 6-0 but with 412 points.

In some tournaments, Payson would have been declared the winner by virtue of the team point spread. However, Horn coach Dennis Pirch said, "We wanted to create a true champion."

So, late Saturday afternoon, the teams were cross-bracketed according to finish in their respective pools.

Pool B champion Payson whipped Pool A runner-up Chandler Hamilton 50-20. In the other bracket, A champion Apache Junction edged B silver medalist Phoenix North by three points.

In the grand finale,' Payson left little doubt who was the tournament's superior team, whipping AJ 47-21.

Following the team tournament, the top two wrestlers in each weight class were seeded into an individual gold-medal round.

River paces Horns
Since the PHS football season culminated Nov. 28 with a state championship, Blair River has faced his share of adversity. He's spent most of his practice time struggling to reduce to the 275-pound weight limit of the heavyweight class.

The 6-foot, 7-inch senior, who played nose guard in football, weighed 300-plus pounds at the conclusion of the gridiron campaign.

Through arduous dieting and a running regime, River -- who has not wrestled competitively this year --finally weighed in under the maximum only hours before his first tournament match.

"I ran the night before, then got up early the next morning and ran some more," River said. "Run, run, and I finally made it."

Despite the rigors of quick weight loss, River responded with a Herculean effort that earned him the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler of the Heavyweight (152-275 pound) Classes award.

Among his triumphs were wins by falls over Apache Junction and Hamilton opponents in the championship rounds.

In pool action, he finished 6-0, contributed 36 points to the Horn team cause and won five matches by falls. His domination of the 275-pound class left little doubt he was the athlete entitled to the OW award.

Other tournament champions from Payson were Justin Cline (119), R. C LaHaye (125), Caleb Miller (135), Mike Armstrong (152) and Jimbo Armstrong (189).

Cline finished 6-0 in pool play, then won a 16-5 major decision against Hamilton. He wrapped up the team tournament with a win on a fall against an AJ foe.

LaHaye dominated pool play, finishing 6-0 on five falls and a forfeit. Against Hamilton, he won by a pin late in the first round. Apache Junction couldn't come up with a wrestler in his weight class and LaHaye was awarded his second forfeit win of the tournament.

In the 135-pound competition, Miller picked up a forfeit in the championship against AJ and won by a fall over his Hamilton foe. In the pool, he was a perfect 6-0 with four falls.

Sometimes wrestling down one weight class down from the 160-pound slot he has held down most of the early season, Mike Armstrong, a senior, shared the 152-pound slot with Doyle Van Horn.

After winning pool play, Armstrong won the 160-pound match against Hamilton by a fall. Against Apache Junction, he swapped weight classes with Van Horn and lost the 152-match to an Apache Junction foe 10-2.

Both Van Horn and Armstrong weighed in at exactly 152 pounds for the tournament.

The flip-flopping of the two between weight classes, coach Pirch said, was by design to insure the team had the best possible point-producing combination on the mat.

In the 189-pound class, Jimbo Armstrong was unbeaten in pool play and won a 14-5 major decision against Hamilton. Apache Junction's entry gave him his greatest competition, battling Armstrong to a 3-3 tie at the end of the first period. In the third period, Armstrong survived 6-4 on an escape and a takedown to finish unbeaten.

The rest of the field
Other medalists for Payson included freshman Levi Armstrong, a runner-up in the 140-pound class, and Mike Barker, 215-pound runner-up.

Third-place finishers were Justin McCarty (130), Mike Wright (145) and Van Horn (160).

Barker's loss, which occurred during the individual championship round to a Scottsdale Saguaro foe, was his first defeat of the 1998 season.

Barker is a defending state champion in the weight class.

Back to practice
The past week, many of the Horn wrestlers have been involved in voluntary practices each morning. Also present have been a host of former wrestlers who have returned to Payson from college for the holidays.

Pirch says the sessions against the older, more-experienced athletes is "a great opportunity to excel."

Required practices for the PHS wrestlers begin at 9 a.m. Dec. 28.

The team returns to competition at 6 p.m. Jan. 6 in the Wilson dome against Arizona Boys Ranch, Coolidge, Mingus and Marana Mountain View.

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