The early season exploits of the Longhorn wrestling team have earned them a reputation as one of the finest 4A squads in Arizona.
Among the team's accomplishments is winning the championship of the Rim Country Duals Tournament, a pair of dual meet victories over Show Low and Blue Ridge and a sixth-place finish in the 16-team Westwood Warrior Classic.
The only schools that have beaten Payson (13-3) this season are 5A powers Tempe Mountain Pointe, 34-27; Mesa Westwood, 38-31; and Tempe Corona del Sol, 49-21. Those three losses were incurred at the Warrior Classic when the Longhorns were without representatives in the 103- and 112-pound weight divisions.
Assistant coach Don Heizer said he hopes that during the holiday break, wrestlers can be found to represent the Horns in those lower weight classes.
"If we find them, we will be a stronger team," he said.
The strength of the team now lies in the 171-pound weight class where unbeaten senior Nate Lee (19-0) is the best in Arizona.
Lee, who has not lost since midway through his freshman season, is on track to become Payson High's first four-time state champion. Last month, he inked a Division I contract to attend Boise State University next year.
Lee also is the backbone of a team that features several other accomplished grapplers, including Tyler Goodman (119), Porter Wilbanks (125), Brandon Chovanec (135), and Lee Perez (140).
Also for Payson, Mark McCarty (145), David Cluff (152), Jordan Bucher (13), Andy Sanders (160), Chad Breen (189/215) have shown well.
Among that crew, the wrestler with the most promising future and tremendous upside is freshman Mark McCarty.
Despite his youth and prep inexperience, he finished second in the Rim Country Duals with an 8-1 record.
Goodman and Perez finished 9-0 at the RCD and Chovanec was 9-1, but the weight-class champion tied San Manuel's T.J. Uribe for the meet's "Outstanding Wrestler" title.
Wilbanks won his weight class championship at the Warrior Classic and was 10-0 entering the RCD. There, he posted 8-1 credentials and was second. The sophomore's lone loss was a 9-2 decision to Uribe.
The unknown in the PHS lineup thus far was junior strongman Donnie Engler (189/215) who was a state qualifier last season.
After making it through a rugged football season without a serious injury, Engler strained a knee in preseason wrestling workouts and has not yet returned to the lineup. Once he returns, he will add leadership and moxie to the team.
Since the conclusion of the RC duals, the team has been participating in daily workouts. Those practices, coach Rich Ormand said, would be devoted to working on fundamental techniques to correct some wrestler's lethargy in the early rounds.
He also will be devoting time to helping his charges defend against single-leg takedowns and correctly follow through on attack maneuvers.
Overall, the coach said he was happy with the early season performances of his wrestlers, but acknowledged there was plenty of room for improvement.
When the team returns to the mat, Jan. 7 and 8 at the Marauder Invitational in Mingus, the competition should be fierce.
Mingus and Payson have locked horns in several showdowns ever since the team was founded by coach Dennis Pirch.
With that rivalry between the two teams and the projection that Payson and Mingus could battle for the Grand Canyon region title, the Marauder match could turn into the mother of all mat wars.
On the horizon
Also on the agenda is the annual Van Horn Memorial Tournament Jan. 21 and 22 in Wilson Dome.
That tournament is held each season in honor of former wrestling supporter Tim Van Horn who died more than a decade ago in an automobile accident.
A change that has occurred on the PHS wrestling schedules since they were distributed last month, is the site of the Class 4A state championships.
On schedules, it is listed as the Phoenix Memorial Veteran's Coliseum. A five-year agreement was recently signed between the Arizona Interscholastic Association and Glendale officials that will move wrestling, basketball and spirit line championships to the Glendale Arena.
The dates of the state tournament, Feb. 11 and 12, will remain the same.