There's good news and bad news for Dave LaMotte's Longhorn wrestling program.
The good news: after forfeiting six points each meet this season for missing a wrestler, the Horns have finally located an athlete to compete in the 103-pound competition.
The bad news: The Horns won't be making the traditional jaunt west for the annual invitational wrestling tournaments at Bolsa Grande or Estancia, because travel and lodging costs of the trip became too great for team coffers.
Instead, the Horns kick off the new year today (Friday) by traveling to Mingus High School for the Mingus Mountain Dave Work Memorial Wrestling Tournament.
Longtime Longhorn assistant Don Heizer said the Mingus tournament is a good choice to replace the trip west because it will give the local wrestlers the opportunity to compete against some of the best athletes from the state's big schools.
The 16-team field includes several 4A and 5A schools such as Tucson Flowing Wells, Tempe, Yuma Kofa, Mesa Red Mountain, Tucson Salpointe, Tucson Canyon del Oro and Tempe Desert Vista.
Dual meet action begins at 11 a.m. today (Friday) in the Mingus gymnasium. During today's duals phase, the teams compete head-to-head in a round robin.
Competition resumes tomorrow (Saturday) at 11 a.m. with an individual championship tournament.
To prepare for the mat fray, Longhorn team members have practiced and conditioned each morning of the holiday break.
During those sessions, the team finally uncovered an athlete to fill the vacant 103-pound slot. Sophomore Brian Papp turned out for the team in mid-December and will be counted on to compete in the once-vacant weight class.
During the first few days of holiday practices, coach Dave LaMotte said he was somewhat reluctant to throw Papp into a tournament as competitive as the Mingus affair. But at mid-week, Heizer said the coaching staff was convinced Papp had acquired the skills to be competitive in Mingus and he would probably participate.
In addition to the services of a newcomer, the Horns head to Mingus with a lineup bolstered by several topnotch wrestlers. Among those projected to be contenders for weight class championships are Larry Wilbanks (135), Zack Lee (145), Nathan Lee (152), Bryce River (189) and George Coleman (215).
In that crew, one youngster River had to reach a lofty goal to participate on the team. To wrestle in the 189-pound class, he had to drop almost 40 pounds from his football playing weight of about 230.
Although he didn't make weight for the first two meets of the season, he was ready to go for the Rim Country Duals Dec. 14 and 15.
Declaring he was elated to be back in the lineup at a lighter weight, River went on to win the Duals weight class championships with an 8-1 record.
According to LaMotte and Heizer, River has remained close to 189-pounds and he should have no trouble making weight at Mingus.
River's dedication and perseverance might be equaled by teammate Nathan Lee.
Only a freshman, Nathan Zack's younger brother wasn't expected to contribute on the varsity level this season.
But the youngster has surprised almost everyone by turning into an accomplished wrestler who won the 152-pound title at the Rim Country Duals.
In a dual meet Dec. 12 against powerful Winslow, Nathan was called upon to compete in the 160-pound class. After taking a 4-1 lead, he went on to win by a fall.
Also expected to show well for Payson in Mingus are Brad Wilembrecht (112), Matt McCarty (130), Daniel Reisdorf (140) and Ingo Beck (heavyweight).
Following the tournament, Payson jumps horns-first into crucial East region play Jan. 9 in Wilson Dome against the Round Valley Elks.
Also participating in the three-way affair will be Higley of the West region.
The competition begins at 4:30 p.m. and will continue until about 7:30 p.m.