Two weeks ago at the Bolsa Grande Classic Invitational Tournament near Anaheim, the Longhorn wrestling team proved it was more than an equal of Southern California's big schools by handily winning the 12-team mat battle.
This weekend in Wilson Dome, the Horns will have the opportunity to prove their line-up has the firepower to stay with Arizona's best when three top-10 ranked Class 5A schools visit for the Tim Van Horn Invitational.
In the 11-team tournament field are 5A second-ranked Gilbert Highland, fourth-ranked Mesa Red Mountain and seventh-rated Glendale Mountain Ridge.
Seven of the teams participating are 4A and 5A schools. Only Blue Ridge, Globe and Payson represent the 3A conference.
The tournament could feature competition equal to and possibly greater than both the Central Division and state tournaments.
Horn coach Dennis Pirch says the tournament represents an increased challenge for the PHS wrestlers in that the athletes have the opportunity to face competition they might not see during the course of the regular season.
First-round sessions will begin at 2 p.m. Jan. 22. Action continues until the championship finale at 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students.
The Longhorn wrestling team tuned up for Van Horn last week by running away to a trio of all-important Central Division victories.
At Cactus Shadows High School Jan. 13, the Horns blasted both the homestanding Falcons 56-21 and Fountain Hills 66-17.
One day later in Wilson Dome, the Horns crushed out-manned Eloy Santa Cruz 63-12.
With the wins, the Horns are undefeated in the division regular season standings.
In winning, Payson received outstanding performances from several wrestlers but none better than the one turned in by 125-pound sophomore R.C. LaHaye.
In the duals at Cactus Shadows, LaHaye dominated his Falcon opponent, winning on a fall in the first period. At the time of the pin, LaHaye had recorded four takedowns and was leading 8-3.
Against Fountain Hills, LaHaye was equally impressive winning on a fall in the first period after leading 4-1.
LaHaye's true test came against Santa Cruz. With a reversal and a near fall in the first period, he built a 5-3 lead over his stout foe. At the conclusion of the hard-fought second stanza the score remained 5-3.
In the crucial final period, the SC wrestler narrowed the count to 5-4 with an escape and was on the verge of an upset. However, a gritty performance by LaHaye in the final minute allowed him to hang on for the one-point victory.
Also performing well during the three-match stand was 160-pound senior Doyle Van Horn. He whipped a Fountains Hills wrestler on a fall and took a 10-1 decision over a Cactus Shadows representative.
Against Eloy, Van Horn was awarded a forfeit when the Dust Devils couldn't come up with a wrestler in the weight class.
This weekend's tournament will be especially meaningful for the youngster since it is contested in the memory of his father.
Tim Van Horn, a long-time avid booster of the PHS wrestling program, was tragically killed in a Nevada auto accident several years ago while returning home from a rodeo.
Another standout in last week's trio of victories was 130-pound Justin McCarty who finished with two falls and a forfeit.
Justin Davis, a 171-pound senior, picked up three triumphs on a fall, injury default and forfeit.
Aaron Bratholt dominated the 112-pound competition winning by a fall, 24-8 decision and a forfeit.
If there was any frustration during the week's win skein it had to be in the 189-pound competition where Payson's Jimbo Armstrong finished 1-2 winning only against Fountain Hills by a default.
Battling a formidable Cactus Shadows opponent, Armstrong opened with a 2-0 lead on a fall in the first period. However in the second stanza, the CS wrestler copped a 5-2 lead recording an escape, takedown and near fall.
Armstrong battled back with two escapes and a takedown in the final period but it wasn't enough for the triumph as the CS wrestler held on for a 7-6 win.
Against Eloy Santa Cruz, Armstrong and his foe battled to a scoreless tie in the first period and were dead knotted 2-2 at the end of two stanzas.
In the third, the SC athletes strung together an escape, take down and reversal to salvage a 7-5 triumph.
The two losses will serve as a stiff challenge for Armstrong -- a junior -- in that both of the wrestlers represented Central Division schools. To earn an advantageous seed to the state tournament, Armstrong will need to beat at least one, or both, at the divisional meet Feb. 6 in Eloy.