The Mingus Marauder Invitational turned into a highly competitive test for the Longhorn wrestling team.
Battling many of the teams the Horns will need to best at the Grand Canyon Region and 4A state tournaments --including host Mingus --ayson struggled to a 2-3 team record.
"Each of our losses was by a one- or two-match difference," coach Rich Ormand said. "No excuses, though. We had the opportunity to win each of the duals, but lost some key matches along the way that could have made a difference."
Probably the most crucial showdown was against the Marauders. The two teams are expected to battle for the region championship Feb. 4 and 5 in Wilson Dome.
If the results of the Marauder Invitational Jan. 7 and 8 in Cottonwood are any indication, Mingus has overtaken Payson as the region title favorite.
The Marauders whipped the Horns 36-21 racking up four wins by falls. The only Longhorn wrestlers to emerge victorious in the heated showdown were Lee Perez (137), Mark McCarty (142), Zach Rogers (154) and Nate Lee (173).
Perez won an 8-6 decision, McCarty survived 6-2, Rogers was victorious 6-2 and Lee jumped out to an 8-2 lead and then pinned his foe.
Although McCarty, a highly acclaimed freshman, was victorious against Mingus, he finished with a 2-5 record and did not place in the tournament.
"I didn't wrestle very well," he said. "I could have done a lot better."
The Horns quickly rebounded from the tournament-opening loss to Mingus by whipping Los Alamos, N.M. 65-4. On the way to the win, the Horns picked up 24 forfeit points and recorded four falls and a technical fall.
Against Tempe Marcos de Niza, a longtime 5A power, the Horns dropped a 40-30 decision. Highlights for Payson in the loss were wins on falls by Tyler Goodman (121), Brandon Chovanec (132), David Cluff (147) and Lee.
The Horns wrapped up the team portion of the tournament with a 42-32 loss to Mesa and a 46-35 win over the Prescott Badgers.
The championship round
Following the duals, an individual mini-tournament was held that pitted the top wrestlers against one another.
A pair of Longhorns -- Lee Perez and Lee -- earned weight class championships.
Lee, a senior who has signed a letter of intent to Boise State University finished 9-0 to improve his season's record to 26-0. In the finals, Lee won a 22-9 technical fall over a Red Mountain opponent. On this way to the win, Lee chalked up 11 takedowns.
Perez finished with an 8-1 record losing only a first-day dual to Marco de Niza's 5A state second-ranked Cory Felix.
On the second day of the tournament, Perez rebounded to whip Felix 3-1 on an escape and takedown in the third period.
Also for the Longhorns, Chovanec and David Cluff both finished third with 7-2 records.
Chovanec lost 5-2 to Mingus' Travis Wokach in the opening round but rebounded beat the Mingus star 9-2 in the gold-medal finale.
Wokach is ranked second in the 4A conference.
Goodman posted a 6-3 record to take fourth place and Rogers claimed fourth with a 4-5 mark.
Sophomore Porter Wilbanks, a strong candidate to win the 125-pound region crown, was yanked from the tournament after aggravating a shoulder injury.
"We did not have him in the lineup against Marcos or Mesa," Ormand said. "We felt it was more important to get him healthy for the Tim Van Horn (Jan. 21-22 in Wilson Dome) and regionals."
Others representing Payson in the tournament were Matt Butler (114 pounds; 0-6), Issac Cluff (125; 4-1), Jordon Bueher (125; 3-1), Chris Bilyk (125; 2-1), Kyle Leonard (140; 1-2), Shane Hounshell (160; 4-4), Matt Barr (189 and 217; 1-6), Zach Burba (171 and 189; 3-3) and Sammy Perez (275; 1-6).
The Horns are still without the services of 217-pound Donnie Engler who injured a knee in early season workouts and has yet to return to action. Engler now wears a knee brace, but plans to rehabilitate his knee and be back in the lineup.
"I want to wrestle ... to be back with the team," he said.
Next up for the Horns is a Grand Canyon regional meet Jan. 19 at Mingus.