The Payson Longhorns could be facing an uphill battle in their pursuit of the 3A state wrestling championship.
That's because the crusade to the state summit must travel over, around and through the Class 3A No. 1 ranked Safford Bulldogs.
The powerful Dogs enter the state tournament, Feb. 10 and 11 in Glendale Arena, with a full contingent of 14 qualifiers including seven south division weight class champions.
The Horns will counter with 12 weight-class qualifiers and four East region champions -- Lee Perez (135), Porter Wilbanks (145) Steele Armstrong (189) and Oscar Chavez (275).
The region champions enter the tournament with No. 1 seeds and because they are pitted against No. 4 seeds in the opening round, have a distinct advantage of advancing in the individual tournament brackets.
Each time a wrestler advances, it adds points to the team effort.
Because PHS did not qualify a wrestler in the 112- and 119-pound weight divisions, Payson can earn no points in those classifications.
Which means, with Safford having more qualifiers and more No. 1 seeds, the Horns must receive Herculean efforts from its entire roster to overtake the Dogs.
Some of the opening round's key matches -- that if Payson wins -- would spell good news for Longhorn hopes include battles by Taylor Byers (103), Dan McGee (130), Zach Rodgers (160) Troy Jenkins (171) and Nick Alexander (215).
All are pitted against higher seeds and if any of the five can pull off upsets, the PHS victories would add team points to the Horn score card and, in effect, take points from opponents.
Also for the Longhorns, Mark McCarty (140) David Cluff (152) and Tyler Goodman (125) are almost "must wins" in that they are No. 2 seeds facing No. 3's.
Longhorn opening round matches, opponents and individual records are:
- 103 pounds: Taylor Byers (Fr., 41-9) vs. Lance Nez of Tuba City (So., 34-6).
- 125 pounds: Tyler Goodman (Sr., 40-8) vs. Jimmy Gutierrez of Safford (So., 25-10).
- 130 pounds: Dan McGee (So., 36-24) vs. Douglas Essitty of Chinle (Jr., 24-12).
- 135 pounds: Lee Perez (Sr., 39-5) vs. Roberto Gregoria of Estrella Foothills (Jr., 23-16).
- 140 pounds: Porter Wilbanks (Jr., 39-5) vs. Charles Austin of Hopi (Sr., 17-10)
- 145 pounds: Mark McCarty (So., 26-9) vs. Jacob Osrio of Wickenburg (Sr. 30-7).
- 152 pounds: David Cluff (Sr., 35-5) vs. Matthew Cruz of Globe (Sr., 14-16).
- 160 pounds: Zach Rodgers (Jr., 16-21) vs. Kirk Tsosie of Grey Hills (Sr., 15-6).
- 171 pounds: Troy Jenkins (Sr., 31-21) vs. John Paul Perales of Santa Cruz (So., 26-10).
- 189 pounds: Steel Armstrong (Fr., 44-9) vs. John Garcia of Florence (Jr., 21-12).
- 215 pounds: Nick Alexander (So., 3-3) vs. Francisco Leon (Jr. 42-6).
- 275 pounds: Oscar Chavez (Jr., 17-10) vs. Joshua Hoshnic of Monument Valley (Fr., 9-24).