Payson High School wrestling coach Rich Ormand knows all too well a "big school" ambush could be awaiting his young grapplers.
The Horns face Phoenix and Tucson powerhouses Jan. 4 in a five-way meet at Marana Mountain View and Jan 6 and 7 at the Peoria Invitational.
"We will go head to head (at Marana) with the No. 1 Class 5A Division II team (Tucson Sunnyside), the No. 2 team (Marana Mountain View) and the No. 8 Class 5A Division I team (Yuma Kofa)," Ormand said. "Two days later, we are wrestling in arguably the toughest tournament in the state -- the Peoria Invitational."
In the Peoria meet, 32 topnotch teams will compete including El Modino, Calif., Cimmaron-Marshall, Nev. and Rio Rancho, N.M.
Cimmaron-Marshall, which last year, won its third straight Class 4A state title and its fifth in the last seven years, lost to Payson 44-27 at the Green Valley Duals Dec. 2 and 3 in Henderson, Nev.
Also entered in the Peoria fray are several of Arizona's finest teams, including Class 5A Division 1 top-ranked Tempe Desert Vista and defending 4A state champion Tucson Sunnyside.
The only small school in the field other than Payson is fellow 3A East member Holbrook.
The challenges of competing in the Marana and Peoria clashes, Ormand said, "will be a good test of how much perseverance our kids have while having to compete against some of the best teams in the state from the 5A ranks."
In the matches, several veteran grapplers, who have been nurtured in the PHS program for several years, will buoy the Horns.
Among them are Tyler Goodman (125), Brandon Chovanec (135), Porter Wilbanks (140), Lee Perez (147) and David Cluff (152).
All five won individual weight class championships at the Rim Country Duals held Dec. 16 and 17 in Wilson dome.
Wilbanks, 18-0 on the season, will be out to keep his record unblemished. Perez is 14-2, Cluff 20-2 and Goodman 20-2.
Chovanec might have the most impressive win of the season to his credit, having bested Queen Creek's Tod Workman 12-5.
Workman was a state runner-up last season and is the grandson of former Round Valley football, wrestling and track and field coaching legend Tot Workman, now the athletic director at Queen Creek.
The Horns roster will also sport a heavyweight newcomer who joined the team after the season started in order to replace another wrestler who had quit.
Oscar Chavez, competing in the 275-pound class, finished 6-0 in the Rim Country Duals and, most impressively, did not give up a single point to an opponent.
Payson also features two freshmen wrestlers, Taylor Byers (103) and Steele Armstrong (189), who honed their skills the past three seasons under Rim Country Middle School wrestling coach Doug Eckhardt. Both freshmen stepped up to the challenges of high school competition by winning weight class titles at the Rim Country Duals.
Competing on the varsity level is nothing knew for Armstrong, who last fall started at linebacker for the Longhorn football season and performed well enough to receive all-region honors.
Others who could see action in the upcoming matches include Ryan Cox (114), Jordan Bucher (121), Dan McGee (132), Nick Goodman (162) and Troy Jenkins (173).
Wrestling action returns to Wilson dome Jan. 20 and 21 during the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament.
The East region tournament is slated for Feb. 4 in Holbrook and the state showdown will be Feb. 10 and 11 in the Glendale Arena.