A hectic off-season, in which the Longhorns participated in a full slate of USA Wrestling competition followed by a month of grueling preseason training, has the team geared up for the start of the season.
The season begins Dec. 6 and 7, when the varsity team members travel to Mesa Westwood High School. There, the Longhorns will be pitted in the prestigious Warrior Classic against some of the best 4A and 5A teams in the state.
Among the championship contenders will be Mesa Mountain View, Mesa, Gilbert and Tucson Canyon del Oro.
Entering a small 3A school like Payson against a field of Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe powerhouses might seem overly ambitious to some, but not to PHS coach Dave LaMotte.
Since Payson first began competing in the classic three years ago, LaMotte said the stiff competition the meet provides better prepares the Longhorns for the stern tests of a run at the state championship.
Payson wrestlers will include Larry Wilbanks (135), Matt McCarty (140), Zack Lee (152), Nathan Lee (171), Bryce River (189) and George Coleman (210).
In Mesa and throughout the campaign, the six which LaMotte calls “the leaders”" are expected to lead the Horn mat charge.
Zack Lee and younger brother Nathan enter the Mesa meet as defending state 3A champions.
By stringing together a 48-0 record last season, Zack captured the state 145-pound title.
In last year’s Warrior Classic, Zack was named to the all-tournament team after finishing the fray without a loss.
His unbeaten streak could be severely tested against the Warrior classic field of 152-pounders he’ll compete against this season.
Nathan, a sophomore, enters the classic as the defending state 152-pound champion. On his way to the state title, he finished with a 35-3 mark. A pair of those losses was absorbed in the classic. Battling 160-pounders this year, Nathan is again projected as one of the state’s best.
The Longhorns top six wrestlers have been acknowledged as the foundation of the team. If Payson is going to shine in Mesa and other tournaments throughout the season, others on the roster will have to step up.
Some of those being counted on include Brad Wilembrecht (119), Lee Perez (130), Daniel Reisdorf (145) and Sammy Perez (heavyweight).
The weight classes of those wrestlers, LaMotte said, could change as the athletes prepare themselves for the divisions they can be most successful
A handful of freshmen, including Andy Sanders and Donald Engler, could eventually find themselves in the varsity mix.
The Longhorns are slated to make their home debut at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 in Wilson Dome against the Snowflake Lobos.
The Rim Country Duals will be held Dec. 20 and 21 in Wilson Dome.