Class 5A wrestling power Gilbert Highlands refused to be denied during last weekend's Payson visit, piling up five first-place weight division finishes in one of the state's most prestigious tournaments.
Although the homestanding Longhorns finished as runnersup in the 11-team Tim Van Horn Memorial with 282 points, the PHS total was significantly off the whopping 363 posted by Highlands.
By racking up 267 points, Mesa Red Mountain finished third, edging fourth-place Glendale Mountain Ridge (161.5).
Early in the two-day tournament --just as the Horns took a slight lead in the team standings Saturday morning -- it looked as if the Longhorns might be able to keep the Van Horn trophy in the Rim country. But, as the day wore on, the depth and experience of the Highland lineup began to pay huge dividends.
Placing qualifiers in the consolation and championship rounds of almost every weight class division, the Highland mat express rolled unchecked.
In addition to five champions, Gilbert rode the point production of 10 other wrestlers who earned medals by finishing among the top six in their weight divisions.
At Saturday's end, little doubt remained that Highlands was the class of the tournament and possibly a threat to make a run at the Class 5A state wrestling championship.
The top guns
About the only time Gilbert was denied during their Payson stay, was when tournament director Don Heizer announced the recipients of the three outstanding wrestler awards.
Not a single Highland representative was cited.
In the lower weight classes, 119-pound Josh Reidhead of Blue Ridge was the trophy-winner.
Payson standout R.C. LaHaye, a defending state champion, was acknowledged as the outstanding wrestler in the middle-class weights after winning the 135-pound crown with a perfect 6-0 record.
Among the heavyweights, Safford's B.J. Nelson, who is legally blind, won the OW title by pinning Jason Isham of Red Mountain in the finale.
The Tim Van Horn Memorial Award was given to 160-pound weight-class champion K.C. Weitman of Red Mountain.
In an unbridled taste of the dramatic, Weitman edged Tim Van Horn's son, Doyle, by a 3-2 count in a Saturday morning match.
The mat battle turned into one of the most ferocious of the tournament as both wrestlers battled toe-to-toe for almost the entire three periods.
But, with only five seconds remaining and both wrestlers almost facing a certain overtime, Weitman scored on an escape to edge Van Horn by a single point.
The Horn showing
With usual starters Levi Armstrong and Mike Wright sidelined with injuries, the Horns spent the tournament battling through a lack of manpower. That turned especially difficult when Highland showed up with a roster filled with accomplished wrestlers.
PHS coaches were able to replace Armstrong with Dominic Palandri who eventually wrestled his way to a sixth-place finish.
However, since the 152-pound Wright started the tournament but couldn't continue after an injury Friday afternoon, the Horns didn't have a representative in the weight division during the crucial Saturday rounds.
Rules prohibit substituting for a wrestler once the tournament begins.
Maybe in any other tournament on any other day, the 3A top-ranked Horns could have survived the loss of Armstrong and Wright. But in a fray as fierce as the Van Horn, Payson needed all the weapons they could muster to have any type of shot at staying with heralded Highland.
In addition to LaHaye's gold medal -- which came on a 19-6 major decision over Safford's Josh Clonts -- Payson picked up another first place from 112-pound freshman Zack Lee.
The youngsters copped the title by virtue of a final round 4-2 victory over Highland's Barry Johnson.
Silver-medal honors went to a trio of Payson wrestlers including Justin Cline, Caleb Miller and Rocky Beery. Cline advanced to the championship round of the 119-pound class but lost a hard-fought 8-6 decision to Blue Ridge's Reidhead.
It was the second time in the tournament Reidhead had edged Cline.
Miller, a 145-pound 3A state weight-class championship contender, took Highland's Mike Smith into an overtime thriller.
With the count deadknotted 4-4 in the extra period, Smith pulled off a takedown to win 6-4.
In the 171-pound finals, Beery was pinned by Highland's Nick Cardenez.
Third-place finishers from Payson included Matt McCarty (103) and Jimbo Armstrong (189).
Aaron Bratholt wrestled his way to a fourth-place medal in the 125-pound division.
Other PHS medalists were Van Horn (fifth), and freshman Bryce River (215; sixth).