The Longhorn wrestling team's Jan. 25 jaunt to Tucson will be highlighted by much more competition than was indicated on original Payson High sports schedules.
On those agendas, Payson was to challenge only Tucson Flowing Wells. Since those schedules were printed in the fall, two other teams have joined the fray to make it a four-way mat affair.
The competition begins at 1 p.m. with Payson taking on Marana Mountain View. At about 3 p.m., Flowing Wells and Payson lock horns as originally scheduled. The day wraps up for the Longhorns at 5 p.m. against Tucson High School.
PHS coach Dave LaMotte said he welcomes the additional competition against the southern Arizona schools because the matches will provide his grapplers added experience and training in preparation for regional finals (Feb. 8 in Show Low) and a run at the state championship Feb. 14 and 15 in Phoenix.
The match also provides 4A and 5A Tucson wrestling fans with a look at several Payson wrestlers who have proven all season to be the equal of the "big school" athletes.
Matt McCarty (140 pounds), Zach Lee (152), Larry Wilbanks (160), Nate Lee (171) and George Coleman (215) are among the Payson stalwarts who will be on display down south.
Bryce River, at 189 pounds, also is in the Horns' big-six crew. However, at the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament Jan. 17 and 18 in Payson, River suffered a bruised sternum after an opponent executed an illegal slam move.
LaMotte said the injury might keep River out of the Horn fold until the Feb. 8 regional tournament.
Zach Lee might be the most heralded athlete in the Longhorns stable of talented wrestlers. Currently riding an 83-match winning streak, Lee has been virtually unstoppable the past two seasons. In one match this season, the best a foe could do against the talented and determined Lee was to last five seconds before being pinned.
Lee's younger brother Nate, a sophomore, is not quite as seasoned, but takes to the mat all the tenacity it takes to be a champion. With a 36-0 record, The younger Lee is well on his way to a second consecutive state weight-class championship.
Until the Van Horn tournament, 160-pound Larry Wilbanks was rolling along undefeated (33-0). The streak came to an end when Wilbanks lost a double overtime decision, on rule book criteria, in the championship round.
The loss was a tough one, but LaMotte says he is confident Wilbanks will rebound to improve on his showings of last season when he was a regional champion and state runner-up.
In McCarty and Coleman, the Longhorns have two of the best wrestlers in the state despite the fact both are entered in highly competitive weight divisions.
For the Horns to emerge victorious in Tucson, the team will need plenty of help from the supporting cast, including Tyler Goodman (103), Brad Wilembrecht (112), David Cluff (119), Lee Perez (135), Shane Hounshell (130), Andy Sanders (135), Josh Blalock (145) and Sammy Perez (275).