A 7-0 meet record fueled by the accomplishments of four individual weight class champions earned the Longhorn wrestling team the Rim Country Duals tournament championship.
In the mat skirmish Dec. 17 and 18 in Wilson Dome, Tyler Goodman (119), Brandon Chovanec (135), Lee Perez (140) and Nate Lee (171) -- the PHS version of "The Fabulous Four" -- dominated their opponents on the way to gold-medal finishes. In a voting of coaches at the conclusion of the tournament, Chovanec tied San Manuel 125-pounder T.J. Uribe for the meet's "Outstanding Wrestler" title.
With the Horns Fab Four bowling over opponents, the team was in control of the mat proceedings until the championship round against Apache Junction.
In the finale, the Longhorns gave up 12 forfeit points in the opening minutes because the team couldn't field wrestlers in the 103- and 112-pound classes.
Minutes later, Payson roared back into contention to nip AJ 37-36 for the dual meet crown.
The key to the nerve-racking victory over the Prospectors was Chad Breen's win by a fall in the 215-pound class. At the time Breen took to the mat, Payson was clinging to a precarious 31-30 lead. His victory, which came at 5:21 of the third period, gave the Horns an insurmountable 37-30 lead.
All AJ's triumph by a fall in the 275-pound final match did was pull the Prospectors to within one-point on the scoreboard.
Had Breen won by anything less than a pin, Payson would have lost the match.
As inspiring as Breen's heroics against Apache Junction were, they weren't enough to earn him a qualifying spot in Saturday's individual mini-tournament. That skirmish pitted the top four wrestlers during the two days against one another.
According to Rim Country Duals tournament rules, participating teams qualify weight classes, rather than individuals, for the championship round.n the 215-pound class, Payson finished 4-1 with Breen going 4-0.
In the first round of the tournament, Breen won a match in the 189-pound division and Payson forfeited at 215. That meant there were three tournament teams with 4-1 records in the 215-pound class.
Tournament director Don Heizer turned to a tie-breaking criterion to select the schools that would advance to the 215-pound individual championship rounds. In the criterion of the most points scored, Payson was eliminated and Breen didn't wrestle despite posting a 7-0 tournament record in two weight classes.
Even without Breen in the individual championship round, the Horns were well-represented with Goodman, Chovanec, Perez and Lee. All finished 9-0 except for Chovanec who was 8-1 losing only to Kingman's Ty Gilstrap on a fall. At the time he was pinned, 3:59 in the second period, Chovanec was leading 8-3.
For Lee, a senior who has not lost since midway through his freshman season, the tournament was another forum to put his considerable mat skills on display.
He finished with seven wins by falls, two forfeits and a victory on a technical fall.
Also for Payson, runner-up honors in the tournament were garnered by Porter Wilbanks (125) and freshman Mark McCarty (145). Wilbanks finished with a 7-2 record and McCarty was 8-1.
Payson's lone third-place finisher, David Cluff, was 7-2 in the 152-pound competition.
Jordan Bucher (130), Andy Sanders (160) and Sammy Perez (275) were fourth. Bucher posted a 3-5 mark, Sanders was 1-4 and Perez 5-4.
If the Longhorns can shore up their lineup in the 103- and 112-pound classes, the team is a legitimate threat to contend for Grand Canyon region and state honors.
In the dual-match-formatted portion of the tournament, Payson finished undefeated whipping Phoenix Christian, 55-18, San Manuel, 54-21, Skyline, 58-9, Bradshaw Mountain, 66-18, Kingman, 50-24, Ironwood, 49-27 and Apache Junction.
Trailing tournament champ Payson and runner-up Apache Junction in the final team standings were Ironwood (3rd; 5-2), Phoenix Christian (4th; 4-3), North Phoenix (5th; 5-2), San Manuel (6th, 4-3), Skyline (7th; 3-4), Willow Canyon (8th; ;2-5), Kingman (9th; 1-5), Valley Christian.(10th; 1-5), Bradshaw Mountain (1-5) and Tucson Pusch Ridge (12th; 0-6).
Following the tournament, coach Rich Ormand took the time to evaluate individual and team efforts.
"We are happy with the performance, but we still need to work on some fundamental techniques," he said. "We are coming out a little too lethargic in the first round."
That lassitude will be addressed during holiday practice sessions.
"We will be to find a way to correct that," Ormand said.
The coach also plans on devoting practice time improving the wrestler's individual protection and resistance.
"We are not doing as well as we would like on defending single leg (takedowns) and following through on our own shots," Ormand said.
While the Horn defense might have been lacking, the coach praised the athletes for wrestling well "on their feet when they are attacking."
The Horns return to the mat Jan. 7 and 8 at the Mingus Marauder Invitational. Several of the teams will participate, including Mingus, that the Longhorns will battle during the course of the Grand Canyon Regional Tournament set for Feb. 4 and 5 in Payson.