The Rim Country Duals one of the premier wrestling tournaments of the Arizona prep season heats up Rim country sports action today (Friday) and tomorrow.
The invitational will feature 12 teams, many of them Class 4A and 5A schools, battling one another in a dual match format of two six-team pools purple and gold.
Action begins today at 1:30 p.m. and continues until about 8 p.m. this evening.
Competition resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.
Tomorrow evening at the competition of the duals round robin, the top two entries in each pool lock horns in a semifinal round. The winners of the semifinals earn the right to advance to the championship finale later that evening.
Exact start times will depend upon how quickly the duals wrap up, but competition will be continuous on four mats in Wilson Dome.
For the semifinals and finals, however, only one mat will be used.
The tournament will be exciting, Payson High School Athletic Director Dave Bradley said. "It always is, because of the competition," he said. "There's some good teams coming."
Schools receiving invitations include Apache Junction, Flagstaff Sinagua, Glendale Ironwood, Pinnacle, Phoenix North, Pusch Ridge, Valley Christian, Phoenix North, Glendale Skyline, Higley, Desert Mountain and Camelback.
Individually, the top four wrestlers in each weight division receive medals.
Horns defending champs
Last year, Payson breezed to the tournament, posting a 7-0 dual meet record.
In the semifinals, the Horns steamrolled over Phoenix North 48-15 which set up a championship showdown against Desert Mountain.
Like powerful Payson had done throughout the tournament, the Horns easily won the crown 68-9. But that squad had superstar R.C. LaHaye who was the recipient of the tournament's "Outstanding Wrestler" award and several other standouts including Aaron Bratholt, Rocky Beery and Billy Bob Hoyt.
Those four are no longer in the lineup, having graduated, or in Hoyt's case, is not participating this year.
But the Longhorns do have a trio of other athletes who showed well in the 2001 tournament including defending weight division champions Zack Lee (135), Larry Wilbanks (112) and Bryce River (215).
This year, Lee wrestles as a 145-pounder and Wilbanks is entered in the 135-pound division.
River captured his 2000 gold in the 215-pound class but this season is trying to drop weight to 189.
In preseason, he said he can help the team better in that class than he can as a 215-pounder. So, his goal is to lose about 25 pounds in order to be eligible to wrestle in the lighter class by today.
At weigh-ins, he'll learn if he has reached his goal. (Results not available at press time.)
Other veterans of the Rim Country Duals still in the PHS lineup include Cole Newbold and Ingo Beck.
Last year, Newbold was fourth among the 152-pounders and Beck fourth in the heavyweight division. Currently Newbold is wrestling at 171-pounds and Beck is a 240-pound heavyweight.
Newcomers in the Longhorn lineup who have little or no Rim Country Duals experience include Brad Wilembrecht (112), Daniel Reisdorf (140), Ryan Holland (119), Shane Hounshell (125) and Nate Lee (152).
Nate Lee, Zack's younger brother, is only a freshman but in early season he's shown the moxie to become a Duals title threat.
Although George Coleman and Matt McCarty didn't place last season, the two are favorites this year to finish among the top two in their division. McCarty has wrestled as a 130-pounder and Coleman mans the 215-pound slot.
Although the Payson entries in each weight division are pretty well set, first-year coach Dave LaMotte has been known to shuffle athletes in weight classes to try and take advantage of individual matches against opposing wrestlers.
In a 40-40 tie with Winslow Dec. 5, the coach made personnel changes in the middle weights to try and gain a lineup advantage over the Bulldogs.
If the Horns do have any weaknesses, its in the 103-pound class and, if River doesn't make weight, in the 189 division.
In early season matches, the Horns have been forced into six point forfeits in the 103 class because the team has no entry.
In the 189-pound division, untested Kevin Moran has given it his best effort but doesn't appear to have the experience to hold down the varsity position on a full-time basis.
A break, dinner and then Mingus
Following the Rim country Duals, the team will take a brief holiday break before returning to action Jan. 4 and 5 at the Mingus Invitational
The team, however, will host its annual benefit all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria.
Tickets, priced at $5 for adults and $3 for children, are available from any team member or at the door.