Horns Hoopsters, Matmen Work For State

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High school basketball and wrestling coaches from around the state are scratchin' their noggins trying to figure where their teams might ultimately fall into the state tournament bracketing that was announced early this week by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Seeding into the tournament often determines how far a basketball team will advance into the fray. Being paired against a defending state champion on a victory roll is certainly not the best way to open the tournament.

Conversely, an easier seed against a less powerful team can be just the catalyst a school needs to advance deep into the playoffs and possibly win a state crown.

In wrestling, state pairings are based on individual finishes in divisional tournaments. But, once again proper seedings can make or break a team's dream for a state crown.

The first two rounds of both the boys' and girls' Class 3A state basketball tournaments will be conducted Feb. 19 and 20 in Flagstaff. The final four games will be played Feb. 26 and 27 at the Phoenix Suns' America West Arena located at 201 E. Jefferson.

In wrestling, classes 1A through 5A will battle Feb. 11, 12 and 13 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum located at 1826 W. McDowell Road in Phoenix.

Payson High School Athletic Director Barry Smith said state ADs and AIA officials have been working the past two years trying to come up with a way for all state championship tournaments to be held at one site, rather than five different ones, as has been historically done.

The reason for having the tournaments at one location, Smith said, is to enable fans to enjoy championship matches in all classes 1A to 5A rather than just one conference.

"It's a way to promote the sport for the spectators," Smith said.

The past several years, the 3A championships have been held in the Round Valley High School dome in Eagar/Springerville.

The possibilities
The opening pairings of the 16 teams that qualify for the 3A boys' basketball tournament are still in a limbo and won't be decided until a meeting of 3A Athletic Directors Feb. 14 in Flagstaff.

Coach Randy Wilcox and his players could conceivably rub a crystal ball and take a stab at predicting where they might fall. But first, the team will have to finish among the Central Division's top three to earn a ticket to the "Big Show."

The best-case scenario for Horns fans is to have the team win their final five games and run away with the division crown.

If that happens, they'd advance as the Central's number-one seed and play West-three.

If the Horns finish in second place in the division, they would be paired against South-two. A third-place finish would pit the Horns against the West Division champion.

The three seed is normally not a good one. The exception to the rule occurred last year when the Longhorns entered with the Central's three berth and upset North Division champion and one-seed Monument Valley.

The site and times of the next month's opening round games have yet to be determined and those decisions might come down to just how popular a team is with its fans.

If it appears to AIA and conference officials that the game is going to draw a huge crowd, the contest would be played in a spacious NAU facility, Smith said. Teams that attract less public support will be relegated to high school gyms.

All second-round games will be contested in the NAU Dome or Rolle Activity Center.

Wilcox said he enjoys playing in the larger facilities in that they lend an air of importance to the tournament games.

The Lady Horns
The Class 3A girls' state bracketing is an exact duplicate of the boys' tournament.

The Central champion plays West three, Central two is pitted against South two and the Central bronze medalist is up against the West Champion.

Times and exact playing sites are yet to be determined and will be decided based on a team's crowd support.

Last year's 23-5 divisional championship Lady Horn team entered the tournament with an advantageous one seed and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Snowflake.

This year, however, the Lady Horns are struggling and will need a strong finish to earn another state berth.

Looking ahead to state might be a tad premature for the team.

Wrestling
In the state wrestling tournament, the top four finishers from each of the divisional qualifying tournaments earn seeds.

Payson grapplers qualify in the day-long divisional finals set for Feb. 6 at Santa Cruz High School in Eloy.

At state, 3A preliminary rounds will be contested 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 12. Winners there advance to semi-finals consolation rounds to be held 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the following days.

Consolation Championships will be held 5:30 to 7 p.m., also Saturday. Eventual state champions will be determined from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Should the Horns emerge victorious in the finale, it would be the school's fourth consecutive state championship.

Longhorn wrestling this weekend
What: The Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament

When: Jan. 22 and 23
Where: Wilson Dome
Times: First session Friday, 2 p.m. until 8 p.m (three mats). Second session -- Saturday, 9 a.m. until 2 p.m (three mats). Third session -- Saturday 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m (consolation finals -- two mats), 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (championship finals -- one mat).

Who: Blue Ridge, Coolidge, Globe, Gilbert Highland, Glendale Ironwood, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Mesa Red Mountain, Safford, Westview and Payson.

Admission: $3 for adults and $2 for students per session. Tournament passes available: $8 for adults, $5 for students.

Awards: Team trophies to top four finishers. Medals to top six finishers in each weight class. Three outstanding wrestler awards -- light weights (103-125), middle weights (130-152) and heavyweights (160-275). Medallion for fastest fall of the tournament. Donnie Haught will award the Tim Van Horn Memorial Award.

Wt. classes: 105, 114, 121, 127, 132, 137, 142, 147, 154, 162, 173, 191, 217 and 275.

Tournament Director: Don Heizer; (520) 474-2233.

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