Schools Big And Small Gather For Van Horn Wrestling Tournament


Since the founding of the Tim Van Horn Memorial Wrestling Tournament decades ago, the invitational has sported a unique flare in attracting teams from all school size classifications, 1A through 5A.

That format affords athletes from smaller schools like Payson the opportunity to see how they might fare against opponents from larger schools in Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler and elsewhere.

In prep sports circles, it's generally thought the 4A and 5A teams are more polished because coaches have many more students and athletes to chose from.

Some 5A schools have student bodies that number over 3,000 students, Payson has less than 1,000.

But the unwritten rule of bigger is better is not always true. For evidence, look no further than last weekend's Estancia, Calif. High School tournament won by Payson.

The sterling tournament field the Horns defeated contained 35 of the state's best teams, most of which represented schools with student bodies thousands greater than PHS.

The Van Horn affair gives the Longhorn wrestlers, and others from 2A and 3A schools, a chance to flex their muscles against big school grapplers.

Some of the heralded 5A schools set to participate are Gilbert, Gilbert Highland and Mesa Red Mountain.

"They're all good teams -- have won some tournaments this year," PHS coach Dennis Pirch said.

Mesa Red Mountain will bring two top-ranked wrestlers in recent coaches association polls. Jesse Udell is 35-0 at 140-pounds and Ben Owens is 32-0 in the 189-pound weight class.

Also for the Mountain Lions, K.C. Weitman is second ranked among the 145-pounders.

Gilbert sports a rising star in 125-pound Gary Johnson who was named one of the outstanding wrestlers at the 24-team Winslow Invitational.

The Horn roster

Paced by defending state champion R.C. LaHaye, the Longhorns will counter with a rock solid line-up of its own.

Competing in the 135-pound class, LaHaye is undefeated and the winner of the Outstanding Wrestler in the Lightweight Classes at the California tournament.

The youngster, however, might not participate in the Van Horn due to a broken hand he suffered in the championship match of the Estancia tournament.

Early this week, LaHaye said his goal was to compete this weekend.

Also on the injured list is 140-pound sophomore Levi Armstrong who is nursing a shoulder bruise.

If Armstrong recovers in time to participate, he could at some point in the fray meet Red Mountain's Udell.

Since both are rugged, standout wrestlers, the possible match could turn into a thriller

Another clash that will pique the interest of the state's fans could occur in the 189-pound class.

Payson's representative Jimbo Armstrong is one of the favorites to win the 3A weight class championship. But to win the Van Horn crown, he would at some point probably go head to head against Red Mountain's Owens. Mark that match down in your programs as another must-see.

The 145-pound Van Horn competition will also feature a pair of legitimate tough guys in Payson's Caleb Miller and Mesa's Weitman.

Miller, a defending Estancia weight-class champion, is a skilled wrestler with loads of tournament experience A match between Weitman and himwould be a fan's dream.

Another that could capture the state's spotlight is the 125-pound competition where PHS standout Aaron Bratholt could conceivably lock horns with Gilbert's Johnson.

If the scenario unfolds as anticipated, Johnson and Bratholt might be facing one another in the Saturday night weight class finals.

Action in the first session of the Van Horn tournament begins at 2 p.m. today (Friday) in Wilson dome and will continue until about 8 p.m. this evening.

Second-session action begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. and wraps up at 2 p.m. The third session, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. will feature consolation finals on two mats. From 5 to 7 p.m., the championship finals will be contested on one mat.

Tournament passes at $8 for adults and $5 for students are valid both days.

Admission for each session is $3 for adults and $2 for students.

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