The 2002 edition of the Tim Van Horn Memorial Invitational tournament which begins today (Friday) in Wilson Dome will feature a new format.
Because three schools Tempe Desert Vista, Phoenix Trevor Browne and Deming, N.M. withdrew from the fray only last week, tournament director Don Heizer was forced to devise a new scheme.
Heizer, a longtime assistant wrestling coach at PHS, had to come up with a format for nine teams rather than the 12 that traditionally participated in the Van Horn.
Under his revised plan, action begins at 2 p.m. today with a series of dual meets on three mats.
The results of those duals will be used to seed the nine teams into one of three pools.
The champions from the duals will be sent to a winners-only pool. The runners-up will battle in the silver-medal pool. The third-place duals finishers will meet other bronze medalist in pool play.
That format, Heizer said, will allow the teams and individuals to compete against opponents of equal ability and talent.
When wrestlers return to the dome at 9 a.m tomorrow, they will be entered into an individual championship bracket.
The results of those head-to-head battles will be used to seed wrestlers into both consolation and championship finals later Saturday afternoon.
The consolations finals will be held on two mats beginning at 3 p.m. The championship round, on one mat, will begin at 5 p.m.
The new format is similar to the one the Horns participated in at a Mingus tournament earlier this year.
The field of schools scheduled to participate in the Van Horn include Payson, Coolidge, Globe, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Mesa Red Mountain, Safford, Tuba City, Window Rock and Farmington, N.M.
The Van Horn's defending champion, Gilbert Highland, opted not to participate this season.
Payson's Matt McCarty took to the mat looking to put an end to the Tucson win streak. Scoring early on a two-point takedown, McCarty was able to position his Tucson foe, Eli Scroggins, for a fall.
The pin, which officially was recorded at 1:11 of the first period closed Flowing Wells' lead to 31-30.
McCarty's triumph thrust the outcome of the dual squarely on the shoulders of Payson's 135-pound sophomore Larry Wilbanks. Paired against Tucson's Derek Wright, Wilbanks built a 6-1 lead on two takedowns and a near fall. In the second period, he upped the count to 8-1 on another near fall before pinning Wright in 3:02.
The win sent a welcome sigh of relief through the Payson crowd, which had earlier wondered if the team had the wherewithal for a last-gasp rally.
For LaMotte, the triumph was a good sign.
"Some of these kids are really starting to wrestle well ... the team is coming together," he said.
In previous years, McCarty and Wilbanks would never have been in the position of having the outcome of the dual resting on them. That's because the final matches of every dual were the 215-pound and heavyweight clashes.
According to previous wrestling rules, duals opened with the 103-pound division and continued through the weights until the heavyweight finale.
That's no longer true. This season, a card is drawn prior to each match to determine which weight division will wrestle first.
Saturday, it was the 140-pounders who opened the afternoon.
Although Payson's entry, sophomore Daniel Reisdorf, competed well, he lost a 9-3 decision.
Next up, the 145-pound battle showcased Payson's unbeaten Nate Lee (29-0) against Tucson's Matt Misner. As a Class 5A state placer last year, Misner entered the showdown with a reputation that included having given former Payson three-time state champion R.C. LaHaye a tussle last season.
Minutes before the Lee/ Misner match began, LaMotte predicted it could be the mother of all mat wars.
The head-to-head battle turned out to be just what the coach predicted. Scoring early on a takedown, Lee took a 2-0 lead. In the second stanza, Lee tacked on a reversal but also gave up a takedown and escape.
Clinging to a 4-3 lead late in the match, Lee was in position to ride out the win. Misner foiled that plan by scoring an escape to deadknot the tally at 4-4.
Battling to retain his unblemished record, Lee took Misner to the mat for a two-point takedown and a 6-4 victory in sudden death overtime.
Following Lee's dramatic victory, his younger brother Nate Lee won the 152-pound battle by a pin to give the Horns a 9-3 lead.
With the victory, Nate a freshman is 26-3 on the year.
Other Payson winners included Cole Newbold (160), Bryce River (189), George Coleman (215) and Ingo Beck (heavyweight).
River easily pinned his foe, but Newbold, Coleman and Beck were all involved in one-point decisions.
Newbold won 5-4, Coleman was victorious 3-2 and Beck survived 1-0.
"We are winning the close (matches) and that's important," LaMotte said.
Coleman's victory improved his record to 28-1. His only loss was incurred at the season opening Mesa Westwood Warrior Classic.
Although Payson's victory was by the narrowest of margins, whipping a Class 4A school that has a reputation of housing a solid wrestling program will be a feather in the Horns' cap when coaches gather to rank teams later this season.
Currently, the Horns are ranked 6th in the Class 3A polls.
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"They went to a Page tournament, but will be back (at Van Horn) in two years," Heizer said. Without the defending champs in the mix, Heizer expects Farmington and Red Mountain to contend for the title
"Farmington is New Mexico's defending state champion; Red Mountain is fourth-ranked in (Class) 5A," he said.
Had the Desert Vista Thunder lived up to their original commitment to participate, the Van Horn would have had a third title contender.
Currently, Desert Vista is ranked second in the 5A ranks and has six athletes ranked in the top-six of their weight classes by Arizona Wrestling Newsletter.
The Thunder would also have brought an athlete, 145-pound Steve Merchant, capable of giving the Longhorns' undefeated Zack Lee a run for his money.
The memorial tournament is held annually in memory of Tim Van Horn, who died in an automobile accident more than a decade ago.
Van Horn, a local businessman, was an ardent wrestling team booster and had two sons, Ansel and Doyle, who competed for the Longhorns.