Coach Dave LaMotte's goal of providing Longhorn wrestlers with the best competition possible was realized when his charges traveled to Tucson Jan. 25. There, the Horns battled Class 5A conference's third- (Marana Mountain View) and ninth-ranked teams (Tucson Flowing Wells).
The absence of Payson's Class 3A No. 1 rated 160-pound Larry Wilbanks and No. 5 ranked 189-pound Bryce River made the task of wrestling on even terms with the big school powers even tougher.
Wilbanks, who has lost only once this season, made the trip to Tucson with the team, but was held out of competition due to a groin injury. Coaches aren't sure when Wilbanks will return to action.
River was sidelined by a chest injury suffered Jan. 17 in the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament. LaMotte said he hopes River can return to the Horn fold by Feb. 8 when the East regional tournament is held in Show Low.
Without Wilbanks and River available to provide their usual team points, Payson lost to Mountain View 41-35 and Flowing Wells 41-25. The Horn cause was buoyed by five wrestlers who won by falls -- Tyler Goodman (103), Brad Wilembrecht (112), David Cluff (119), Matt McCarty (140) and Zach Lee (152).
Sophomore Nate Lee (171) wrestled his way to a 18-3 win by a technical fall.
The Longhorns gave up five losses by falls, one on a technical fall and dropped two decisions.
Chris Skinner replaced Wilbanks and freshman Donald Engler manned River's usual 189-pound slot. Both lost by falls.
One pin vs. Flowing Wells
Against Flowing Wells, the Horns had only freshman Tyler Goodman win by a fall. The youngster's pair of victories by pins on the roadtrip might have been the jumpstart he needs to become one of the best in his weight class. In his win against Flowing Wells, Goodman dominated his foe pinning him with 1:42 remaining in the first period. At the time, Goodman led 4-1.
The victory over his Mountain View opponent was much tougher. Trailing 7-4 at the start of the third period, Goodman rallied from behind to pin in a time of 5:39.
Although the Horns struggled as a team to record falls, the squad did have two wins by major decisions. McCarty won 10-2 and Nate Lee tacked on a 13-4 victory. Victories on major decisions are worth four team points.
Zach Lee accounted for five team points by winning a 23-8 technical fall. On his way to the win, he recorded nine takedowns.
Wilembrecht (112) and George Coleman (215) earned Payson victories by decisions (worth three team points). Wilembrecht survived a 12-10 thriller and Coleman won 7-0.
Payson wrestlers allowed four falls, two technical falls and two decisions.
For Coleman, a senior who is the 3A's top ranked 215-pounder, recent competition has put his considerable mettle to stern tests. Over the course of the past few weeks, Coleman has dropped close decisions to Class 5A's No. 1-ranked Bryan DiPalmero (Canyon del Oro), 5A No. 2-ranked Chris Simon (Mountain View) and 4A top-ranked Ellery Tarazon (Tempe).
The experience of taking on the big school's best wrestlers should bode well for Coleman when he returns to 3A competition in search of the state weight class championship that eluded him last year when he was battling an injury.
At state, Coleman's chief competition will probably come from Kris Nelson (Parker), Earl Pulda (Blue Ridge) and Nathan Lockard (Globe).
Although Payson beat defending state champion Show Low 40-34 in a dual meet Jan. 8 in Cougar land, two ranking services -- The Inside Trip wrestling newsletter and the AZWrestling.com website -- continue to rate the Longhorns second and the Cougars first.
After watching his Horns nip Show Low earlier this year, LaMotte predicted the tournaments for regional and state honors will be barnburners. The state match is Feb. 14 and 15.