State Hopes Dampened In Region Triumph

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The proverbial "good news, bad news" scenario capped the Class 4A Grand Canyon regional wrestling tournament Feb. 7 in Flagstaff.

The good news is always easiest to swallow so here goes -- the Payson Longhorns wrestled their way to the GC Region championship.

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Payson High School will be represented at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament by (front, l-r), Brad Willembrecht, Porter Wilbanks and Lee Perez. Also (back row) coach Rich Ormand, Nate Lee, Donnie Engler and Larry Wilbanks.

Hurrah!

The bad news is usually about as much fun as an emergency root canal. For the Longhorns, the dreadful report is that the team qualified only six wrestlers for state and probably does not have a realistic shot at winning the 4A state crown.

"With only six individuals we have a rough road ahead of us," first year coach Rich Ormand said.

That could be the biggest understatement of the season considering defending state champion Tucson Sunnyside qualified all 14 wrestlers at the Sonoran region wrestling championships.

In the Kino region, Pueblo qualified 13 of 14 wrestlers for state.

The two Tucson schools are now huge favorites to stake claim to the 4A state crown when the championships wrap up tomorrow (Saturday) at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

Although the odds are stacked against the Horns, Ormand predicts a slight chance for his team.

"I have seen it (winning state with few qualifiers) done in the past," he said. "We have the ability to score over 100 points at state and if we get some help from other teams we may have an outside shot."

The demise of the Horns' state hopes might be two-fold. First, the Grand Canyon region is the undoubtedly the most competitive in the 4A conference. Secondly, only three qualifiers go to state rather than four as was the situation when Payson was a 3A school.

"The region is the toughest in the state -- out of eight different (4A) regions and over 60 schools, five of the seven teams in the Grand Canyon are currently ranked in the state (top-10)," Ormand said.

Ranked schools from the Grand Canyon include Payson (third), Coconino (fifth), Mingus (sixth), Page (seventh) and Chinle (eighth).

Also, had the region sent the top-four regional finishers to state, Payson would have had wrestlers in every weight class except 145-pounds.

Fourth place regional finishers who will not travel to state include Tyler Goodman (112), Brandon Chovanec (125), David Cluff (135), Zach Rodgers (140), Shane Hounshell (152) Jake Fagan (215) and Adam Munson (275).

Prior to the tournament, coach Don Heizer predicted just such a situation could occur for the Longhorns.

"It's tough to win a state championship when you are leaving wrestlers at home who could score points for you," he said.

"The (Grand Canyon) region is so tough -- the teams beat each other up and that opens the door for teams like Sunnyside who don't compete in such a tough region."

Ormand also bemoaned the fact some very talented PHS wrestlers will not be competing at state.

"I saw kids from other schools win their region weight classes who had been beaten by some our kids who will not be going to state," he said.

Adding further credibility to the contention that the GC region is the best in the state is the 4A individual weight class rankings released last week.

More than one-third of the wrestlers ranked in the state's top-six represent Grand Canyon schools.

The qualifiers

The Longhorn road to the Grand Canyon regional title was paved by the gold medal efforts of Porter Wilbanks (103), Lee Perez (130) Larry Wilbanks (160) and Nathan Lee (171).

Porter Wilbanks, a rapidly improving freshman, finished 2-0 winning on a technical fall and by a major decision. Perez was 2-0 chalking up two pins. Lee won on a pin and by a major decision.

Larry Wilbanks wrestled in three matches and won two by pins. In the other he emerged victorious by a major decision.

Following the tournament, coaches selected Perez and Larry Wilbanks the co-outstanding wrestlers.

The Longhorns lone GC runnerup, Brad Wilembrecht (119), won his first match by a technical fall, but lost a heartbreaking 5-3 overtime decision in the finale. His opponent, Mingus' Peter Valencia, is fourth-ranked in the 4A conference.

Payson's final state qualifier, sophomore Donnie Engler (189), earned a berth with his 2-1 record and third place showing.

Engler won by an injury default in the opening round, but lost by a pin in the semifinals. In the consolation bracket finals he won by a fall.

Among the six qualifiers Payson takes to state, five of them are currently ranked among the state's top-six. Larry Wilbanks and Lee, both unbeaten, are ranked No. 1. Wilembrecht and Perez are fifth-ranked. Porter Wilbanks is ranked sixth.

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