With a road win over Round Valley and the championship of the Camp Verde Invitational in their back pockets, the five-time defending state champion Longhorn wrestling team makes its home debut Wednesday against the Show Low Cougars.
Meet times are 6 p.m. (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity) in Wilson Dome.
The meet could turn into a good test of the Horns' mettle if PHS coach Dennis Pirch's predictions are on target.
"They gave us a good dual match last season and they have a lot of kids coming back. I expect them to be very good," he said.
A win over the Cougars would improve the Horns' East record to 2-0 and move the team closer to a eye-popping 23rd regional championship.
Gold in Verde Valley
At the Camp Verde Duals Invitational contested Friday and Saturday in CV High School, the Horns defended their 1999 tournament championship by posting a 7-0 dual meet record.
On their way to the CV crown, the Horns defeated San Manuel, Dysart, Tuba City, Wickenburg, Maricopa, Phoenix Trevor Browne and Mogollon.
The dual meet win over Mogollon Saturday afternoon in Camp Verde Middle School gym turned into a spirited clash between two teams that are rapidly building a rivalry despite the fact they are members of different conferences. Mogollon is a Class 2A school and Payson is 3A.
Individually, the Horns had five wrestlers finish the tournament undefeated and earn weight class championships. They included Billy Bob Hoyt (103), Zack Lee (135), R.C. LaHaye (140), Caleb Miller (152) and Bryce River (215).
In a strange turn of events, no Payson athletes received outstanding wrestler awards, despite the fact the PHS champions dominated their foes.
No bugeling from these Elks
Prior to the season-opening 62-16 win over Round Valley Nov. 29, PHS coaches looked to RV to be one of the tougher East obstacles the Horns had to overcome.
RVHS was billed as the home of outstanding athletes, as evidenced by the school's excellent showing in the football season that didn't culminate until a loss in the state quarterfinals.
But, RV was no match for the Longhorns who put on a display of wrestling strength and technique that serves notice the team is once again an odds-on choice to earn yet another state crown.
By posting six falls, one technical fall and two wins by decisions, the Longhorns romped unchecked over the Elks.
Early in the match, the Horns strung together five consecutive wins by falls to expand a slim 11-4 lead into a 38-4 cushion.
The falls were posted by Matt McCarty (125), Aaron Bratholt (130), R.C. LaHaye (140), Levi Armstrong (145) and Caleb Miller (152).
LaHaye's victory was particularly convincing in that he pinned his foe with 1:03 remaining in the first period after jumping out to a 10-1 lead.
This season, LaHaye will be in search of his third consecutive weight class championship. Last year, he said he hoped another title would ultimately lead to a collegiate scholarship.
Following sophomore Brett William's loss by a fall in the 160-pound match, Rocky Beery (171) got the Horn express back on track with a first-period pin.
In the 189-pound match, Payson's George Coleman, a promising sophomore newcomer who transferred to PHS this year from out of state, lost by a fall early in the second period.
Following the disappointing loss, the Horns came roaring back to win both the 215-pound and heavyweight matches by falls.
Sophomore Bryce River (215) pinned his opponent with 29 seconds remaining in the first period. At the time, he was clinging to a 5-0 lead on a takedown and near fall.
Ingo Beck's win in the heavyweight class was a welcome sign for Horn faithful because his division was a weak point for the team last season.
At the Camp Verde Invitational, he finished seventh among the 14 heavyweights who competed.
If Beck becomes a formidable force among the East big boys, the already powerful Horn lineup becomes almost unbeatable.
While the Horn victory was posted mostly on points racked up with pins, the most exciting match of the evening occurred in the 135-pound clash involving Payson's Zack Lee and RV's Dominic Greer. After taking a 9-5 first-period lead, Lee held on for a narrow 12-11 triumph. During the hotly contested second period, Greer out-pointed Lee 6-3, chalking up a near fall, takedown and a pair of escapes.
When the pair meet again in the East regional championships, the match could turn out to be a contest of iron wills.