A trio of Longhorn wrestlers will battle to keep their season records unblemished at the Rim Country Duals Friday and Saturday in Wilson Dome.
The undefeated Horns include Porter Wilbanks, 125 pounds; Brandon Chovanec, 135; and Nate Lee, 171. All three have 10-0 records.
The three compiled their impressive slates during dual meet wins over Show Low, Blue Ridge and at the Westwood Warrior Classic Dec. 10 and 11 in Mesa.
At the Classic, which is considered one of the premier "big school" clashes in the Valley, the Payson threesome finished 8-0, won their weight class titles and were named to the all-tournament team.
During Lee's tenure in the skirmish, the Boise State-bound senior won six matches by falls, one on a forfeit and another by a 13-3 major decision.
His dominating exploits built on his reputation as one of the finest wrestlers in the state, and reaffirmed the faith Boise State coaches had when they recruited and signed him last fall.
Lee, who has not lost since he was a freshman, also is on track to become Payson High School's first four-time state champion.
Wilbanks, a sophomore, had a tougher road to the championship than did his older Longhorn counterpart.
Although Wilbanks won three matches by falls and another by forfeit, he was forced to survive thrillers by 5-4, 9-5 and 10-6 victory margins.
His toughest test was provided by a Mountain Pointe athlete who battled Wilbanks to a 3-3 tie early in the third period. Wilbanks salvaged the 5-4 win with a penalty point and an escape late in the match.
Chovanec tallied three falls, had two forfeits and won 8-2, 11-8 and 7-2 decisions.
The performances of Lee, Wilbanks, Chovanec and their teammates helped the Longhorns nail down a sixth-place finish in the 16-team Warrior field. The showing also was the best turned in by any Class 4A team entered in the tournament.
Tournament champion Mesa Mountain View is Arizona's No. 2 ranked 5A school. Tournament runner-up, Mesa, is ranked No. 8 in 5A circles.
During the two days of competition, Payson defeated Globe, 60-6;
Greenway, 38-37; Desert Mountain, 45-15; Mesa, 34-30; and Chandler Hamilton, 48-15.
Horn losses were to Tempe Mountain Pointe, 34-27; Mesa Westwood, 38-31; and Tempe Corona del Sol, 49-21.
Old foes lock horns
In a season-opening three-way meet Dec. 8 in Wilson Dome, three teams -- Blue Ridge, Show Low and Payson -- met in a classic confrontation reminiscent of past years when all three schools were members of the 3A East region. When PHS returns to the East next year, after two years in the 4A Grand Canyon region, the rivalry that once existed will probably be rekindled.
If that rebirth is anything like the Horns vs. Cougar dual, fans are in for some real mat thrills.
At the conclusion of the showdown between Payson and Show Low, the two teams were tied at 36. Meet officials went to the rule book to determine a winner.
The officials were forced to reach down to the sixth tie-breaking criteria -- "first points scored in a match" -- before the tie could be settled.
Because Payson scored "first points" in seven matches and Show Low in four, the tie-breaking team point went to the Longhorns.
Officially, Payson's win goes down in the record books as 37-36, but fans in attendance know the match was about as closely contested as any could possibly be.
Assistant coach Don Heizer, an 18-year veteran at PHS, said he had never witnessed a match that had to be decided by the sixth criteria.
"And I've only seen four ties in those years," he said.
Ironically, just two days later in the Longhorns' 38-37 win over Greenway in the Warrior Classic, officials had to again go to the sixth criteria to solve a 37-37 tie.
The Horns' dual match win over Blue Ridge paled in comparison to the excitement of Show Low. The Horns ran out to an early lead and coasted to a 54-23 victory over the outmanned Jackets.