Entering the White Mountain League Wrestling Championships held last week in Whiteriver, Rim Country Middle School wrestling coach Jon Vick said he believed his team had an outside shot at winning its first WML crown.
But the prognostication proved to be overly optimistic when the Mavericks (146 points) struggled to a fifth-place finish behind Show Low (235), Snowflake (178), Blue Ridge (167) and Round Valley (148).
"What can I say," Vick said. "We thought we could battle because we believed we had a strong tournament team. Instead, the reverse was true. Round Valley --who we beat in a dual --edged us out for fourth."
The reason for the demise of the Mavs is difficult to pinpoint, the coach said, but could be attributed to a lack of point production from unseeded wrestlers.
Known as "wild cards, " the unheralded athletes have the opportunity to contribute to the cause by providing points for their own school all the while taking points away from the opposition.
"We wrestled hard but our wild cards got trumped," Vick said.
The Mavericks did return with a pair of weight class White Mountain League Champions -- Billy Bob Hoyt and Larry Wilbanks. With their showings, the pair set the stage for what could turn into very promising careers on the high school level.
In the 95-pound competition, Hoyt captured the crown by whipping two-time defending WML champion Sean Seymore of Show Low.
The gold-medal finale was a barnburner, Vick said.
"Billy Bob was in a dogfight with Seymore into the third round (when he) head locked and pinned him," the coach said.
It was the second successive win for Hoyt over the acclaimed Cougar foe.
Wilbanks also went toe-to-toe against a Show Low opponent -- Jeff Tenney.
In a low-scoring affair, Tenney went up 3-2 late in the match, but then made the mistake of trying to stall through the final going.
With only four seconds remaining, Wilbanks was awarded the match-tying point on Tenney's stalling actions, Vick said.
In overtime, Wilbanks won the title with a single-leg takedown of Tenney. "Another dogfight," Vick said.
The Mavericks produced only one silver medalist -- 119-pound Ashton Shewey -- during the day-long fray. After battling his way into the championship round, the RCMS eighth-grader was decisioned 7-4 in the hard-fought finale. As an unseeded entry, Shewey surprised the competition.
Maverick bronze-medalists included Brandon Boll (127), Brandon Kelley (70) and Kevin Moran (145).
In addition to the contributions of the medalists, the RCMS received a spirited effort from 65-pound Daniel McGee who is only a fourth-grader in his first year of wrestling.
As a wild card entry, McGee chalked up three tournament victories and surprised everyone by knocking the No. 1 seed out in the second round.
Throughout the tournament, the Mavericks were without the services of 165-pound seventh-grader Mikey Waterman who was sidelined with a broken knuckle.
Vick admits he and others were hoping for a better finish in the tournament. But in retrospect, he says the Mavs might have been over-achievers in light of losing six of eight WML medalists off last year's squad.
"This team went much further than many believed possible ... it was the second or third best I've every coached and was the best in terms of work ethic, desire and coachability," he said.
The team will take a brief break from training before returning to the mat to prepare for the state junior high school championships in late January at a yet undetermined site, Vick said.