Payson Wrestling Brings Home Second-Place Trophy

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It wasn't the state crown the Longhorns had their sights set on, but by winning eight individual weight class medals the Payson High School wrestling team added a Class 3A runner-up trophy to their extensive Wilson dome hardware collection.

The Horns posted 164.50 points to finish second behind the Safford Bulldogs (227.50).

With 147 points, Show Low was third in the 30-team tournament contested Feb. 10 and 11 in Glendale Arena.

The Payson parade to the victory stand was led by gold medalists Lee Perez (135 pounds) and Porter Wilbanks (140 pounds) who both chalked up 5-0 tournament records.

Perez opened with win by a fall over an Estrella Foothills opponent and continued with victories against foes from Sahuarita and Fountain Hills.

In the championship round against Chee BiNali of Monument Valley, Perez wrapped up his run to the gold with an 18-5 major decision.

The easy win was a head turner in that BiNali, a highly regarded senior, entered the finals with a 43-1 record.

Perez's state championship capped an outstanding senior season in which he earned a 43-5 record and won outstanding wrestler honors at the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament and the East Region championships.

Wilbanks, a junior, kicked off the tournament with a forfeit win against a Hopi High School wrestler.

In the second round, Wilbanks won a 17-1 technical fall over the South No. 2 seed. The triumph propelled him to the semifinal clash, which he won 18-3.

Battling Billy Rova of Blue Ridge in the championship round, Wilbanks emerged victorious with an 8-3 decision. His victory ended a campaign in which Wilbanks was able to put together a 43-5 slate.

In addition to the sterling state efforts turned in by Perez and Wilbanks, the Horn cause received boosts from runner-up showings by Tyler Goodman (125) and David Cluff (152).

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Rich Ormand, wrestling coach

Goodman, the East region's second seed, with a 40-8 record, began his assent to the title round by pinning a Safford opponent. He continued with a 9-6 decision over Chinle and a 10-3 thumping of Holbrook. In the finale, Goodman dropped a 5-3 heart breaker to the same wrestler, Blue Ridge's Anthony Martinez, who beat him in the East championships.

With a 3-1 state record, Goodman finished his senior season 43-9.

Cluff, also a senior, began pursuit of a state crown with a 35-5 record and a bundle of honors earned as an underclassman.

As the East's two-seed, Cluff won his first round match by a fall over a Globe wrestler. In the second round, he narrowly won a 6-4 decision against Fountain Hills.

A 25-5 technical fall win over Ganado sent Cluff into the finals against South region champion Justin Gaethje of Safford.

The Bulldog wrestler quickly relegated Cluff (38-6) to the silver medal with a 19-7 win by a major decision.

Following the tournament, coach Rich Ormand praised the efforts of Goodman and Cluff.

"I have nothing but admiration for these two," Ormand said. "They have worked very hard the last four years, and it breaks your heart as a coach when you see them come up short of their goals. We would have liked to see the two end their careers as state champions, but sometimes it just does not always work out the way you hoped it would."

Consolation medal winners

State third place honors were garnered for Payson by Mark McCarty (145) and Steel Armstrong (189).

McCarty, a sophomore sporting a 26-9 record and an East two-seed, received a forfeit win in the first round over Wickenburg's No. 3 West qualifier.

In the second round, McCarty suffered the heartbreak of defeat, losing a 31-4 major decision to the North region champion.

Relegated to the consolation bracket, McCarty went on a four-match streak, winning by a forfeit, back-to-back falls and, in the third-place showdown, a 6-0 decision over a Snowflake qualifier.

With a 31-10 record, McCarty bodes well for the future of the Longhorn wrestling program in that he has two full seasons remaining in his high school career.

As bright as McCarty's prospects might be, Armstrong's contributions to future Horn teams could be even greater.

Only a freshman, Armstrong finished 48-10, battling against mostly older, more seasoned veteran grapplers.

Fans watching Armstrong pin down a second-place finish at the Tim Van Horn tournament openly questioned how he will fair in upcoming seasons when he is pitted against athletes of his own age and experience.

After the freshman opened with a pair of wins, he was sent packing into the consolation bracket by a 10-6 loss to the South region champion from Coolidge.

In the lower bracket, Armstrong won an 8-0 decision over the West's No. 1 seed to send him to the bronze medal battle against a Safford qualifier.

The Bulldog proved to be no match for Armstrong who won by a pin with 2:35 remaining.

More team points

Payson's other two medals were won by Taylor Byers (fifth; 103) and Zach Rodgers (sixth; 160).

Byers, a highly promising freshman, finished 3-2 in the tournament.

Among the foes Byers faced were both the South and East region champions. As the East's No. 3 seed, Byers wrapped up the season 45-11.

Rodgers, an East third seed with a 16-21 slate, was off and running at state with a 2-0 record before losing in the quarterfinals to Coolidge's South region weight class champion.

In the consolation bracket, he lost to Sahuarita and Round Valley qualifiers.

Following the state fray, Ormand characterized the campaign as a successful one in which the Horns battled through adversity.

"I am elated that we were able to have such a great season regardless of our injuries throughout the season," he said. "To win the region and take second at state is more then we could have asked for considering the obstacles we had to overcome. The team just kept stepping up and faced each competition with eagerness."

The coach also expressed his optimism about the future of the program.

"I look forward to the next year and hopefully we can equal or better this season's accomplishments," he said. "The opportunity is there, the kids just have to take advantage of it."

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