Battling 4A and 5A wrestling powers in what is known at “Arizona’s Premier Dual Meet Tournament,” Longhorn wrestlers produced three undefeated weight class champions, compiled a 7-2 record and finished fourth in the 16-team field.
The Horns’ showing at the 17th Annual Warrior Kick-Off Classic Dec. 6 to 8 at Mesa Westwood High showed that Payson can wrestle with the best teams in the state, regardless of school size classification.
Among the teams that fell to the Horns in the team scoring were Tempe Corona del Sol (43-27), Desert Mountain (38-26), Glendale Ironwood (48-30), Westwood (39-28), Tucson Canyon del Oro (54-13) and a tournament team comprised of top-three placers (49-13). That team was put together at the last minute to fill a void created when Sunrise Mountain didn’t show up for the tournament.
In the star-studded high school field, only Payson and Seton Catholic represented the 3A conference.
Longtime class 5A power Mesa Mountain View wrestled its way to a fifth consecutive Warrior championship.
Payson’s meet champions included Zack Lee (152), Larry Wilbanks (160) and Nate Lee (171). On their way to the crowns, all three compiled 8-0 records and were named to the all-tournament team.
Nate’s, Zack’s and Wilbanks’ gold-medal showings in Mesa have stamped the grapplers as solid choices to earn state titles when the 3A championships are contested Feb. 14 and 15.
Last year, both Zack and Nathan were region and state champions. Wilbanks was an East region champion and state runner-up.
Coach Dave LaMotte praised the trio’s efforts in Mesa saying they wrestled with skill, determination and passion.
In addition to the superb efforts of the champions, the Payson cause received a huge boost from Matt McCarty (140), Bryce River (189) and George Coleman (215).
All three compiled 7-1 tournament records, losing only in the weight class finals.
Coleman lost 14-5 to Class 5A defending state champion Bryan DiPalermo of Canyon del Oro.
“He was good. Very good,” Coleman said.
Last season, Coleman finished as a state and region runner-up. River was a region silver medalist and fifth at state. McCarty grappled his way to the East championship and a state fifth-place showing.
As seniors, the trio will be wrestling this season to improve upon those finishes.
Other Payson wrestlers and their tournament records were Tyler Goodman (103; 3-5), Brad Wilembrecht (119; 6-2), David Cluff (125; 1-7), Lee Perez (130; 4-4), Shane Hounshell (135; 3-5), Andy Sanders (145; 0-7), and Sammy Perez (275; 0-8).
The Horns return to action at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18 in Wilson Dome against the Snowflake Lobos. The outcome is critical to both team’s hopes of pinning a regular season East region championship.
On Dec. 21 and 22 in Wilson Dome, the Rim Country Duals will draw some of the best teams in the state. Start times will be announced next week.