Some coaches might shy away from the challenge of following in the footsteps of legends.
But not new Payson High School wrestling coach Richard Ormand.
When the position opened last spring, Ormand was quick to apply even though he probably realized somewhere down the road, he'd be compared to the Longhorns two previous coaches -- Dennis Pirch and Dave LaMotte.
Pirch started the Horn wrestling team in the mid-1970s and built it into one of the best small-town programs in the western United States.
During Pirch's tenure, he led the Horns to 10 state championships and countless region and tournament crowns. Upon his retirement three years ago, LaMotte took over and continued the team's winning tradition.
Last spring, LaMotte resigned to spend more time with his family, including two sons who are wrestling on the college level.
Pirch and LaMotte are widely considered among the finest coaches in the sport and will probably someday be inducted into the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Although Ormand will be the Horns first-year head coach, he is no stranger to the PHS program and the expectations it generates. Last season, he served as an assistant coach under LaMotte. In 1997-98, he helped start the wrestling program at Tucson Palo Verde Christian (now Pusch Ridge). He also coached at Tucson Ciniega before he moved to Flagstaff to complete his education at Northern Arizona University.
During his coaching stints in Tucson, Ormand said he was well aware of the aura that surrounded Payson wrestling.
Rebuilding the line-up
In taking over the reins of the fabled program, Ormand's biggest challenge will be to find replacements for four grapplers who last season led the Horns to the East region championship and a state second place finish. The four are Mark McCarty (140), Zach Lee (152), Bryce River (189) and George Coleman (215). All graduated from PHS last spring.
The coach also will have to replace sophomore Andy Sanders and senior Daniel Reisdorf. Sanders recently gave up wrestling to concentrate on winter baseball and Reisdorf opted to play soccer this winter. Both were frequent starters last season.
The coach does have a pair of the state's finest wrestlers in Nate Lee (171) and Larry Wilbanks (160). Both won weight class state championships last season and return to the fold with even more mat moxie. It's not a stretch to believe the pair could win second state crowns, even though the Horns have moved up to the 4A conference from 3A.
Other returning regional placers from last year include Tyler Goodman (103), Brad Wilembrecht (112), Lee Perez (125), Shane Hounshell (130), David Cluff (135) and Josh Blalock (145).
Also returning to the team with considerable wrestling experience are 189-pound Donnie Engler and 215-pound Sammy Perez. The two are expected to help fill the voids created by the graduation of River and Coleman.
Others in the mix to earn mat time in the upper weight classifications are Adam Munson and Tyler Williams. Munson is a newcomer to the sport. Williams wrestled two years ago as a freshman but then sat out last season. Williams, Munson and Engler all have plenty of athletic talents as evidenced by the fact the trio helped the Longhorn football team post an 8-2 record.
Freshman Porter Wilbanks (103) also is on hand to help carry on the Longhorns storied tradition. The teen starred last year for the Rim Country Middle School Mavericks and might have the ability to excel on the varsity program.
As a first-year member of the 4A Grand Canyon region, the Longhorns will no longer battle longtime rivals from the 3A East like Show Low, Snowflake and Round Valley.
Instead, the Horns will challenge the Grand Canyon's top three of Mingus, Page and Coconino for regional honors.
Ormand also projects Chinle to be a dark horse in the race for regional laurels.
"It will be a tough region. There are no pushovers," he said. The coach predicts the difference between 3A and 4A competition for his charges is the big school conference will have more depth.
"Teams are probably better from top to bottom," he said.
The Horns have the opportunity for one last clash with their former 3A rivals during a three-way season opening meet at 1 p.m. Dec. 10 in Wilson dome. Teams representing Show Low, Blue Ridge and Payson will be on hand.