Steel Armstrong and Porter Wilbanks, two of Payson's most accomplished grapplers, led the Longhorn charge at the prestigious Peoria Tournament of Champions, wrestling their way to team-leading bronze medal showings.
In the mat skirmish Jan. 6 to 7 at Peoria High School, Armstrong, a 189-pound freshman, compiled a 6-1 record, losing only to Dave Desraisseauv of Mesa Dobson.
Wilbanks finished 4-1 in the 140-pound division, falling only to Victor Sanchez of Rio Rancho, N.M.
"I'd never wrestled him before, didn't know much about him," Wilbanks said.
The efforts of Armstrong earned him the team's Brutally Aggressive Grappler Uninhibited by Adversity (BAGUBA) award.
Armstrong's and Wilbanks' showings also propelled the Horns to a seventh place finish in a 35-team field that included some of the finest teams from Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
Tucson Sunnyside, a team that pounded Payson 66-0 a week ago, captured the championship of the tournament, posting 246.5 points to outdistance Rio Rancho, which had 235 points.
Cimarron Memorial of Las Vegas, Nev. finished third with 194 points.
Payson's 114 points were more than some 4A and 5A schools earned, including Scottsdale Horizon, Deer Valley, Glendale Independence, Brophy and Mesa Dobson.
"The tournament lived up to its billing; this was a tougher tournament than state was," coach Rich Ormand said. "It was a good test for our boys; each time they wrestled it was a do or die situation."
The coach also lauded the team for its efforts in the fray.
"Bottom line is, we wrestled well and found out some things we need to work on this second half of the season," he said. "We have a better overall team from top to bottom this year than we did last year."
Also making an impression at the tournament for Payson, 119-pound Tyler Goodman finished 4-2 and took fifth place in a weight class that featured three state champions.
"There were more state champions in this tournament than any I can remember in a long time," Ormand said.
In the 130-pound weight class, senior Lee Perez went 4-2 and was fifth.
Armstrong, Wilbanks, Goodman and Perez were Payson's lone medal winners.
Others who participated were Taylor Byers (103; 2-1), Dan McGee (125; 2-2), Brandon Chovanec (135; 2-2), Mark McCarty (145; 1-2), Nick Goodman (152; 2-2), Zach Rodgers (160; 0-1) and Troy Jenkins (171; 3-2).
In the 112-pound class, Ryan Cox was pulled from the tournament due to an injury.
Also, 215-pound senior Donnie Engler did not wrestle due to a shoulder injury suffered in football.
At a mid-week practice, Engler was icing his shoulder down, eager to return to the lineup.
"I want to get out there as soon as I can," he said.
He is expected to return for a Jan. 18 three-way meet in Eagar-Springerville. Participating along with Payson will be East rivals Round Valley and Alchesay.
Also on the Longhorn agenda is the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament Jan. 20 and 21 in Wilson dome.
The fray, one of the highlights of the regular season, is contested each year in memory of Van Horn -- a longtime wrestling team supporter who died more than a decade ago in an out-of-state car accident.
Tournament director Don Heizer is predicting the tournament will be a banner affair, drawing some of the finest wrestlers in the state.