Senior Zach Lee's record-setting performance paced the Longhorns to a pool championship and a third-place overall showing in the Tim Van Horn Memorial Wrestling Tournament.
In winning the 152-pound weight division crown with an 8-0 record, Lee became the first wrestler in the history of the tournament to capture four championships.
"I remember his first (championship) as a freshman," PHS coach Dave LaMotte said. "He had to really fight for that one; (he) barely won it."
Lee's sterling performance Friday and Saturday in Wilson Dome was even sweeter when he was named the recipient of the Tim Van Horn Memorial award. That trophy, originally given out by Van Horn's longtime friend Donnie Haught, is now awarded by Van Horn's surviving family members. It is given annually to the wrestler who turns in the most outstanding effort during the two-day tournament.
Behind Zach, who is a team co-captain, the Horns finished with a 3-0 pool record. Payson victories were over Mountain Ridge (46-17), Valley (81-0) and Safford (51-28). With the gold pool victory, Payson advanced to the dual meet championship against a Class 5A state second-ranked Mesa Red Mountain team that had won the purple pool.
In the battle of the two wrestling powers, the Mountain Lions clawed their way to a 41-24 win.
Tempe High, the state's top-ranked 4A school, finished third after losing to Red Mountain in pool play.
The second day
Saturday, the teams battled in an individual championship tournament that was won by Red Mountain with a tally of 284 points. Trailing were Tempe (276), Payson (233), Safford (193), Mountain Ridge (172), Globe (59) and Valley (22).
Payson's chances of nailing down a title suffered a severe blow Friday when 189-pound Bryce River suffered a bruised sternum while battling a Red Mountain opponent. The Red Mountain wrestler was penalized for an illegal move (body slam) but after a short rest, River asked that the match continue.
"He could have sat it out and taken the win, but we try not to do that," LaMotte said.
Although River finished the match, which he lost by a decision, the injury sidelined him the following day. Without River in the line-up, the Horns were without one of their most successful wrestlers.
"The least he would have (earned) was second (place)," LaMotte said.
The injury is expected to keep River out of action until the regional tournament Feb. 8.
Among the day's highlights for Payson faithful was the showing of 140-pound senior Matt McCarty. Finishing with an 8-1 record, McCarty captured the weight division championship by whipping a Red Mountain wrestler he had lost to on three occasions earlier this season. The victory was by a 5-2 decision.
McCarty's performance earned him the tournament's "outstanding middleweight wrestler" citation.
In the 171-pound competition, Nate Lee won the weight title by compiling a 9-0 tournament record. In the championship finale, he recorded a 13-5 win by a major decision.
Most of the nail-biting drama of the Van Horn match was provided by Payson's undefeated 160-pound entry -- Larry Wilbanks. After advancing to the gold-medal round with a 6-0 record, Wilbanks wrestled his foe to a 2-2 standoff in regulation play.
In the first one-minute overtime, in which both wrestlers start from a stand-up position, neither could score a point. Prep rules call for a second overtime from a knees-down position. Wilbanks, because he had scored the first point of the match, was given the choice of taking the top or bottom position.
Apparently hoping to record an escape, he chose the bottom position.
Throughout the second OT, Wilbanks battled to loosen the hold of his foe. Much to the chagrin of Rim fans, he was never able to break free and chalk up the escape points. The match ended in a 2-2 tie. Officially, the win was awarded to Wilbanks' opponent on "rule book criteria." Because the Payson wrestler chose down in the second OT and was not able to escape, rules declare his opponent the victor.
"It was a great match, but that was a tough loss," LaMotte said.
In the rugged 215-pound competition, George Coleman finished second (7-1) losing a 6-0 decision to the defending 4A state champion from Tempe.
The surprise of the tournament occurred in the 119-pound competition where David Cluff wrestled his way to a second-place finish with a 4-3 record. Until the Van Horn, Cluff had struggled against most foes.
Brad Wilembrecht, a 119-pound region third-place finisher last year, dropped to 112 pounds for the Van Horn. He finished second, posting a 6-2 record.
Other Payson entries in the tournament were 103-pound Tyler Goodman (2-5), 125-pound Lee Perez (4-5), 130-pound Shane Hounshell (2-6), 135-pound Andy Sanders (2-6), 145-pound Josh Blalock (4-5) and 275-pound Sammy Perez (2-4).