If the 2001 edition of the Payson Longhorn wrestling team is to pin down its sixth consecutive state championship this weekend in Phoenix, it will have to do so with only 11 qualifiers in the 15 weight divisions.
Last season, the Horns sent 14 qualifiers to the state tournament and won the title by just 15 1/2 points over runner-up Winslow.
PHS coach Dennis Pirch predicts it's possible to claim the championship with only 11 wrestlers, but "it will be tough, very tough."
There is, however, a precedent for winning with less that a full contingent of qualifiers. Several years ago, Apache Junction won two state crowns with just nine each season.
The Show Low Cougars, who send 10 state qualifiers, could be the team to beat because of advantageous seeding of the wrestlers into the tournament.
"The bracketing is in their favor. They should be the odds-on favorite," Pirch said.
The state tournament seeds the top four individual finishers in the four regional tournaments East, West, North and South against one another.
The seeding is designed to be as fair as possible, but due to the presence of less skilled qualifiers in some brackets and more talented in others, it often becomes skewed.
In addition to having advantageous bracketing, Show Low proved it was championship material in last weekend's East tournament. The Cats lost only 180-170 to Payson and were without the services of perhaps the team's best wrestler 137-pound Tim Williams. The youngster broke his elbow in a quarterfinals match.
The Cougars also produced two of the three Outstanding Wrestlers in the East tournament.
The pair heavyweight Scott Croft and 103-pound Sean Seymore are favorites to earn individual state championships, which will be a big plus for the Cougar team cause.
Croft was named outstanding heavyweight divisions and Seymore best in light weights.
For the Horns
With Aaron Bratholt on the roster, the Horns sport the East region's 132-pound champion. In addition to winning the regional weight division title, Bratholt was named the outstanding wrestler in the middle weight divisions. Bratholt sixth at state last season takes an impressive 35-7 record to the state showdown. Those credentials make him one of the favorites to claim a 3A title.
Another Payson wrestler who will be tough to beat is two-time defending state champion R.C. LaHaye (142).
The PHS senior, who has his sights set on a collegiate wrestling scholarship, is 37-0 this year and has not been beaten in two seasons.
In winning the East crown, LaHaye endured a rarity a foe who put him on his back. Usually, LaHaye wins on falls or lopsided point totals. After struggling in the early going of the East championship match Saturday evening, LaHaye regained form to claim the title.
With a 27-3 record, two-time state runner-up senior Caleb Miller has a legitimate shot at winning a 3A weight division title.
Although he finished fourth in the East tournament, with a 2-2 record, 171-pound Rocky Beery has the experience and talent to vie for state honors.
Last season, Beery finished third at state and this year was off to a 26-2 start before breaking even in the East finals.
Billy Bob Hoyt opened the campaign as an untested 105-pound freshman, but has since racked up a 35-3 record.
The rookie is a legitimate threat at state but should he reach the finals, the youngster will probably have to face Show Low's Seymore once again.
Hoyt lost by a decision to Seymore in the East 105 championship final.
Also an untested freshman at the onset of the season, Larry Wilbanks took the prep wrestling world by storm, winning the 114-pound East championship on the way to a sparkling 35-6 record.
Sophomore Zack Lee, the East 135-pound champ, finished fourth at state last season and will be out to climb even higher now that he has a year of experience under his belt.
As the East region runner-up this year and a state silver medalist last season, Levi Armstrong (147) has the moxie to make a state title run of his own.
In the heavier weight classes, the Horns sport state qualifiers Cole Newbold (162) and George Coleman (191). With a 17-11 record, Newbold qualified for state as the East's third-place finisher. Coleman, who transferred to PHS from out of state this school year, is 30-11 and advances as the East's weight division runner-up.
By finishing third in the regional tournament, Ingo Beck (26-17) will represent PHS in the state heavyweight competition.
The Horns will be without wrestlers in the 121, 127 and 217 divisions at state.