The Longhorn wrestling team might be forced to compete Feb. 4 in the 3A East tournament without one of its veteran leaders.
Senior Donnie Engler re-injured his shoulder in the first match of the Tim Van Horn Invitational Jan. 20 in Wilson dome and could be lost for the remainder of the campaign.
Engler first injured the shoulder during the football season, but later had surgery to remove a bone chip.
After sitting out the early part of the season rehabilitating the shoulder, he returned to the line-up for a Jan. 18 three-way meet in Eagar-Springerville.
There, he posted a 3-0 record and appeared to be returning to his form of old.
After the meet, coach Rich Ormand named him the Brutally Aggressive Grappler Uninhibited by Adversity (BAGUBA) winner.
Just prior to his first match in the Van Horn, Engler said he was anxious to get back on the mat and help the Longhorns win the tournament and go on to postseason honors.
If Engler cannot return for the East regional and 3A state tournaments, the Horns must take to the mat without one of its most steady and well-versed grapplers, who has long been a key to good team chemistry.
Luckily, the Horn line-up features several other hardened wrestlers who can fill the void if Engler does not return.
They include seniors David Cluff (154), Lee Perez (137) and Tyler Goodman (127).
All won weight class championships and outstanding wrestler honors at the Van Horn tournament. The trio also has the mat moxie and skill to challenge for both regional and state honors.
The Horns can also call upon Porter Wilbanks (142), Zach Rodgers (162), Troy Jenkins (173) and Daniel McGee (132) for leadership and tournament victories.
Freshman Taylor Byers (105) and Steele Armstrong (191) have proven to be pleasant surprises, overcoming youth and inexperience on their way to becoming stellar wrestlers.
At the Van Horn tournament, both finished as silver medalists while competing against some of the finer athletes in the state.
A question mark facing Ormand is who to insert in the 119-pound class if junior Jordan Bucher is not available. Bucher was pulled from the Van Horn due to an injury and his status for future meets is not known.
At the Springerville-Eagar match, Bucher proved he could help the Horn cause, finishing with a 2-1 record.
Cats, Dogs loom tough
As a team, the Horns' stiffest competition at the East region meet might come from longtime rival Show Low.
The Horns and Cougars split their two regular season meetings.
In Payson on Dec. 7, Show Low survived a 36-33 thriller. More than a month later in Eagar-Springerville, the Horns avenged the defeat with a 54-25 victory.
If the Horns can slip past the Cats once again and bring home the East crown, their fiercest competition at the Feb. 10-11 state tournament in Glendale Arena could come from the Safford Bulldogs.
"Safford will be tough to beat this year, but we are doing the right things at the right time of the season," Ormand said. "The kids are really starting to come together for a common goal of a state championship."