Horn Staff Looks To Plug Holes In Mat Lineup

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Rebuilding was never an option during the 28-year hey-day of Longhorn wrestling.

Almost as quickly as graduating seniors left holes in the Horn lineup, coaches reloaded the roster with young athletes who had long waited in the wings to showcase their mat prowess.

That depth helped the Horns build a juggernaut that won 10 state championships, 25 regional titles and earned the community the title of "Small Town Wrestling Capital of America."

This season, however, the team is facing the brutal fact it might face the unusual challenge of rebuilding last year's state runnerup team.

"I think the community needs to know that is something we will probably be doing ... we could be taking our lumps early (in the season)," first-year head coach Dave LaMotte said.

Among the reasons the team might not sport the firepower it had in past seasons is the loss of three state champions to last spring's graduation

Gone are longtime Horn stalwarts and 2001 state tournament weight class champs R.C. LaHaye, Rocky Berry and Caleb Miller.

But that's not the end of Horn woes. The team also lost state fifth-place finisher Aaron Bratholt to graduation.

Adding further to this year's question marks, is that at least two athletes who were expected to contend for starting honors did not turn out for preseason drills when they began Oct. 29.

Couple those losses with the fact the team has yet to find an athlete to man the 103-pound slot, and the Horns are scrambling to uncover the manpower it will take for Payson to carry on its tradition of state excellence.

Although there is concern in the Horn camp, LaMotte is convinced that with the right attitudes, Payson can again put together a competitive mat team.

"We (the coaches) are committed to working hard and staying positive ... if we can get that commitment (from the players) to come to practice every day and to work hard, we will be OK," he said.

The coaches

On the staff to assist LaMotte who took over the head coaching reins last summer from team founder Dennis Pirch are Doug Eckhardt and Don Heizer.

Both are holdovers from Pirch's reign and have built a reputation as two of the most sound coaches in the state.

LaMotte a former head coach at Class 5A Gilbert High and on the East Coast also served as an assistant to Pirch for several years.

Pirch resigned last spring after a storied career at PHS, and his presence in the program will certainly be missed.

But with LaMotte, Eckhardt and Heizer at the helm, Payson High is acknowledged as having one of the most knowledgeable staffs in Arizona.

The line-up

With no 103-pounder in the Horn fold, the staff will continue to scour the PHS campus looking for a teen willing to make the sacrifices it takes to participate in the wrestling program.

Meanwhile, coaches are focusing on developing the athletes who did turn out.

Currently sophomore Brad Wilembrecht, who saw very limited varsity time last season, is battling for starting honors in the 112-pound class.

Like Wilembrecht, 119-pound Ryan Holland a junior is untested but has shown the potential to become a varsity starter.

In the 125-pound division, freshman Shane Hounshell is a candidate for first team laurels.

The Horns sport considerable experience in the 130 and 135 pound slots, where Matt McCarty and Larry Wilbanks are projected to be topnotch grapplers.

The 130-pound McCarty is a junior letter winner who has drawn praise from the coaches.

"He is working really hard and has a positive attitude," LaMotte said.

Wilbanks, a sophomore, won the East regional championship last season and advanced to the state tournament.

After suffering a shoulder separation that caused him to default, Wilbanks had to settle for a state sixth-place finish.

In the 140-pound class, Daniel Reisdorf a part time starter last season is challenging for first team honors.

The Horn roster has a state championship favorite in 145-pound junior Zack Lee.

A tough nut to crack, Lee wrestled his way to a state runnerup showing last season.

Paired in the finale against a Rio Rico wrestler, Lee battled his foe to a 5-5 deadknot.

In the overtime period, Lee opted for the aggressive takedown but the move misfired when his foe scored off the tactic to win the title 7-5.

In addition to being an experienced veteran of the program, Lee continually draws praise from LaMotte for his dedication to the sport.

"He's a year-round wrestler. We can always count on him," LaMotte.

In the 152-pound class, the Longhorns turn into a family affair when Nate Lee Zack's younger brother takes to the mat.

Although he's only a freshman, Nate proved in off-season freestyle USA wrestling competition that he has the abilities to succeed on the prep level.

Coaches are continuing to evaluate the competition in the 160-pound class, where senior Cole Newbold is battling freshman Tyler Williamson for the starting slot.

Williamson has unlimited potential but Newbold "is working real hard," LaMotte said.

For Payson, the 171-pound slot will be a huge question mark. Currently sophomore Kevin Moran is contending for starting laurels but the youngster has no wrestling experience.

The teen does bring to the mat some athletic moxie, having been the starting center on the Longhorn football team last season.

Another query in the Horn lineup exists in the 189-pound division.

Junior Bryce River, who wrestled 215 last season, has committed himself to losing the weight necessary to wrestle at 189.

River said he would probably not be able to make weight by the season opener Nov. 30 at Mesa Westwood High School.

Instead, he has his sights set on weighing 189 for the Rim Country Dual tournament Dec. 14 and 15.

River, who weighed about 220 during the football season but is currently approaching 200, can look to a strong role model for weight loss.

His older brother, Blair, lost more than 30 pound to make the 275-pound limit for heavyweights. After the loss, he went on to win the state weight class championship and help the Longhorns claim the 1999 state title.

In the 215-pound and heavyweight classes, the Horns sport two letter-winners in George Coleman and Nelson Beck.

Coleman, who finished fifth at state in the 189-pound class, is "bigger and stronger this year" LaMotte said.

The 255-pound Beck showed considerable promise last season when coaches were just beginning to teach him the nuances of the sport.

With an added year of experience, coaches are projecting he could round into an accomplished heavyweight.

The opposition

If the Horns are to continue their tradition of mat success, the road to victory will first travel through Show Low and Snowflake.

LaMotte is projecting that both the Lobos and the Cougars will field teams capable of winning the East title.

Round Valley, once a wrestling strong hold, could be a dark horse contender.

Outside the region, defending state champion Rio Rico is the favorite to repeat as champs.

After making their season debut at the Westwood Warrior Classic, the Longhorns will be in action against both Winslow and Queen Creek Dec. 5 in Wilson Dome.

Start times are 4:30 (jayvee), 5:30 (vs. Winslow) and 6:30 p.m. (vs. Queen Creek).

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