The Payson Longhorn wrestling team overcame the loss of two starters to win the Class 3A East regional championship.
The title was the fourth consecutive region crown the Longhorn mat men have captured. In 2004 and 2005, the crowns were earned in the Class 4A Grand Canyon region of which PHS was then a member.
"It was nice for our seniors to win four in a row," coach Rich Ormand said. "The kids set their minds to win the region and that is just what they did."
In pinning the East championship Feb. 4 in Holbrook, Payson was without the services of Jordan Bucher and Donnie Engler, who were sidelined with injuries sustained during the Tim Van Horn Memorial Jan. 20 and 21 in Wilson dome.
Sophomore Nick Alexander filled in for Engler in the 215-pound class and, despite weighing just 177 pounds, wrestled his way to a fourth-place showing and a berth in the state tournament Feb. 10 and 11 in Glendale, Arena.
"It was nice to have Nick step in at 215 and earn some points for the team," Ormand said. "I can't express how happy I was for the boys this weekend."
Nick is the son of former Longhorn football star Greg Alexander who led PHS to a state runner-up finish in 1996 and the A West region championship the following season. Last summer, Alexander moved his family to Payson from their former home in Wickenburg.
Although the Horns found an able replacement for Engler, they did not have one for the 119-pound Bucher and couldn't qualify a wrestler in that weight division for state.
The only other weight class the Horns didn't qualify a state entrant for was the 112-pound slot.
To earn a berth to the 3A state finals, wrestlers must finish among the top four in the four regional tournaments.
Horns roll over Cats
In winning the East team title, the Longhorns piled up 185.5 points to out-distance longtime rival Show Low. The Cougars posted 174 points to take runner-up honors.
"Show Low wrestled extremely well," Ormand said. "They had a great semifinal round, putting kids in the finals by beating higher seeded wrestlers."
For PHS, East region individual weight class championships were earned by Lee Perez (135), Porter Wilbanks (140), Mark McCarty (145), Steele Armstrong (189) and Oscar Chavez (275).
In addition to Perez earning an East crown, he was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler in the middleweight classes and was the team's Brutally Aggressive Grappler Uninhibited by Adversity (BAGUBA) award winner. Wilbanks also received a BAGUBA award.
Second pace finishers for the Longhorns included David Cluff (152) and Tyler Goodman (125).
Bronze medals were garnered by Taylor Byers (103), Dan McGee (130), Zach Rodgers (160) and Troy Jenkins (171).
With the battle for the East crown now only a reflection in the rear view mirror, the Horns find themselves speeding along the highway to a possible 3A state championship.
To reach that goal, Ormand is predicting the Horns must survive a four-team collision in Glendale Arena. "It will be a race between Safford, Show Low, Winslow and us," he said. "Safford will be the heavy favorite."
"We are extremely happy with the state brackets we received Monday," he said.