A nucleus of five state placers will lead the Longhorn wrestling team tomorrow, Wednesday, in a season-opening mat battle against visiting Fountain Hills.
The veterans, who coach Dave LaMotte is calling upon to shoulder the all-important leadership role this season, include Ben Sandoval, Isaac Cluff, Mark McCarty, Nick Goodman and Bryan Burke.
Among the most seasoned of the returning letter winners are McCarty and Cluff. Both are seniors and returning tough guys who have proved their mettle on the mat since they were involved in the youth program and later as student-athletes at Rim Country Middle School.
Also, both were East region champions and state bronze medalists last season. This year, Cluff will compete at 140 pounds and McCarty at 152 pounds.
While both wrestlers are well-known around the community and state for their mat accomplishments, it is their deeds in the classroom and in the community that also render them quality young men.
Both are academic scholars with special affinities for the higher level of mathematics. The duo also are solid citizens who LaMotte and his staff can count on to shine as role models for other students.
Sandoval, a sophomore, returns to the Longhorn fold with the experience of having finished fifth at state last season as an untested rookie.
This year, he will wrestle in the 130-pound slot.
Goodman, a junior, will fill the 160-pound slot after finishing fourth at state as a sophomore. In addition to excelling in wrestling, Goodman is an all-region tailback in football and a standout pole-vaulter for the Longhorn track and field team.
Burke also finished fourth at state in 2006-2007 and was third in the East tournament, winning the consolation finals finals title by a pin. In football, Burke was an all-region first team defensive tackle.
In the 171-pound slot, either junior Oshay Chovanec or freshman Clint Godac will be asked to lead the Horn charge.
Of the two, Chovanec is the most experienced, having qualified for state last year by finishing fourth in the East region tournament.
In the 189-pound slot, senior Nick Alexander is being counted on to provided plenty of team points.
Among the newcomers LaMotte can call upon are Jeb Ward (103), Ben Lee (112), Jacob Cluff (119), Ryan Abraham (119) and Joey Spear (125). Ward, Lee and Cluff are freshmen and Abraham and Spear are sophomores.
Also expected to start against Fountain Hills will be juniors Ryan Cox (135) and Gage Conway (145).
Although both are relatively untested in varsity competition, LaMotte touts the two as having the potential to become solid contributors to the program.
The lone void in the Longhorn lineup is in the heavyweight spot. Although students have trued for the position, none has remained with the team.
LaMotte said he hopes to find a heavyweight in the next few weeks.
Assisting LaMotte this year on both the varsity and jayvee level will be Joe Harris, Brent Lee and Jeff Goddard.
In addition to Harris coaching, he is also is the Town of Payson Parks and Recreation Coordinator. Lee is the father of two of the Longhorns most accomplished wrestlers -- Zack and Nate Lee. Both are not competing on the collegiate level.
Goddard, a computer specialist in the district office, joins the staff with previous wrestling experience.
"It's a very good group of coaches," LaMotte said.
The Longhorns open the season as defending East runners-up, having dropped a narrow 173.5 to 172 decision to the Holbrook Roadrunners in last year's championship finale.
Holbrook, however, is no longer an East school, having been realigned last summer to the North region.
LaMotte said he is unsure of which teams will be region championship favorites, but expects Show Low to continue its tradition of excellence and Blue Ridge to have the athletes who could contend for top honors.
"It could turn into a three-team race between those two and us," he said.
Around the state, the coach anticipates defending state champion Safford and Winslow will be the teams to beat.
The Horns begin pursuit of East honors Dec. 5 in Wilson Dome in a multiple meet that has attracted Show Low, Blue Ridge and Snowflake.
Another all-important showdown is on the agenda for Jan. 16 in Round Valley where Show Low, Alchesay, Payson and the homestanding Elks will gather for a region shoot out.
In tomorrow's season opener against the Falcons, LaMotte is not sure what to expect from a Fountain Hills team that has never made much noise on the prep-wrestling scene.
"They are an unknown, but seem to be getting better each season," he said. "They are trying to build a program."
Match time is 3:30 p.m.
Match time tomorrow is 3:30 p.m. and the non-region clash will be followed at 6 p.m. by a collegiate showdown, pitting Western State College of Colorado against Grand Canyon State University.
Admission is $5 per person, which is also good for the WSC vs. GCU clash.
A trio of former Longhorns will be in the spotlight during the match.
Former PHS state champs Larry Wilbanks and Zach Lee are members of the WSC team and R.C. LaHaye will be making his debut as the coach of Grand Canyon University.