The Peoria Tournament of Champions has been traditionally one of the strongest wrestling venues every year for the state of Arizona and 2007 was a showcase event. Thirty-five high school teams, all seeking quality post-Christmas competition, were not disappointed this past weekend.
The Payson Longhorns made the trip to Phoenix for the two-day event to do battle with perennial wrestling powers Tucson Sunnyside, Cimarron Las Vegas and Rio Rancho from New Mexico, among others.
A tournament of this caliber is healthy competition for a 3A size school like Payson to wrestle with athletes from the 4A and 5A ranks. The Peoria tournament can only help in preparing the Longhorns for the conference and state meets in early February.
When the flurry of wrestling finally ended on Saturday evening, the Payson Longhorns cracked the Top Ten in team points and had three placers who brought home medals.
At 112 pounds, Taylor Byers wrestled his way to the semi-finals in the 32-man bracket. On Saturday, he lost a tough overtime battle in the consolations and finished in sixth place. His improved wrestling has been a real strength among lightweights in the first half of the Longhorn wrestling season.
Mark McCarty, at 152 pounds, made it to the finals in a very tough weight, competing against the like of the meet's outstanding wrestler, Kyle DeBerry. Throughout the tournament, he was dominating his opponents with aggressive wrestling on his feet with a very good single leg attack, complemented with a fireman's carry.
In the finals, he was matched against 5A defending state champ Kyle DeBerry, who is ASU bound, having signed a letter of intent to wrestle for the Sun Devils next year.
McCarty actually took his opponent to the mat with a strong fireman's carry before the Sunnyside wrestler was able to counter with a stepover to pin the Longhorn.
McCarty ended the tournament with a 4 and 1, the silver medal, and valuable experience against top flight competition.
Porter Wilbanks was also in the finals for Payson, at 145 pounds, and he earned the championship with a solid 12-7 win against an opponent from Moon Valley. His road to the championships contained five hard-fought victories. Among the highlights was his 3-0 decision in the semifinals over a New Mexico wrestler who very likely will win a state title in his home state. Wilbanks' conditioning allows him to wrestle for six minutes, which often creates scoring opportunities against quality wrestlers. That style earned him the gold medal at a real showcase event.
Other Longhorns scored valuable team points with Ben Sandoval notching a victory at 119 pounds, and Isaac Cluff scoring three wins at 135. Zach Rodgers, at 171, and Bryan Burke, at 215, were only a match away from placing, both earning four wins -- each in the consolation wrestlebacks.
The Horns came away from the weekend earning a top 10 finish with the best competition Arizona wrestling can provide.
An even greater benefit is the confidence the team has gained when they return to the mat wars in the 3A ranks.
Coach LaMotte said, "It was a very good wrestling weekend where the team and staff were very appreciative of the parent-fan support."
Next week, the Longhorns travel to Phoenix again for a multimeet at Sunnyslope High School on Wednesday afternoon.
They will be returning to the friendly confines of the Wilson Dome for the Tim Van Horn Invitational on Jan. 19 and 20.
The Longhorn team and staff encourage the residents of the area to come watch some great high school wrestling.