Horns Hoping For Many State Qualifiers

East Regional tourney is Saturday. 10 a.m. at Show Low High School

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The reverse side of Payson High School wrestling coach Dave LaMotte's T-shirt tells it best -- 10 state championships, seven state runners-up, 27 regional titles and an AIA Scholar-Athlete team award.

That is the legacy of the Longhorn wrestling program that was founded in 1973. Today, LaMotte is at the helm of the program engineering it through rugged East region and state mat wars.

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Members of the Payson High School wrestling team that will be in action tomorrow, Saturday are Jed Ward, Ben Lee, Jacob Cluff, Ryan Abraham, Joey Spear, Ben Sandoval, Ryan Cox, Isaac Cluff, Gunner Bauer, Gage Conway, Mark McCarty, Nick Goodman, Wrigley Harper, Joey Garcia, David Linkey, Kevin Bryant, Clint Godac, Nick Walker and Bryan Burke. Coaches are Dave LaMotte, Brent Lee and Joseph Harris.

The rich wrestling tradition the Horns enjoy could be enhanced even more tomorrow, Saturday, with a solid team showing in the East region championships.

The daylong tournament, which pits teams representing all six East regional schools against one another, begins at 10 a.m. at Show Low High School.

Entering the fray, LaMotte is anticipating a three-way battle for the title, with the possibility of one or two foes springing upsets.

"Show Low, Blue Ridge and us will be in it (the championship chase) but Snowflake is getting better," he said. "Round Valley can't be counted out."

The Horns greatest weakness is the tournament will be the lack of an entrant in the heavyweight class. Not having an entry is akin to giving away six team points.

Since the onset of the season in November, LaMotte has tried to attract an athlete big enough to fill the weight division, but none has panned out.

Payson will, however, have a strong contingent in the other 13 divisions.

Leading the charge will be 152-pound senior Mark McCarty, who will probably be seeded first in the tournament because of his sterling 41-2 record.

Isaac Cluff (140) will also be a strong contender for a weight division championship. This season, he has posted a 41-7 mark.

Junior Bryan Burke (215) is 43-3 and should be a legitimate candidate for a gold medal.

In the 160-pound weight division, junior Nick Goodman is 27-7 and one of the more polished wrestlers in the 3A conference.

For sophomore Ben Sandoval (130) to vie for a title, he must overcome a series of bloody noses that slowed him in the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament.

If Sandoval, who has a 36-11 record, solves those problems, he will be a threat to win the weight division crown.

Also a favorite to show well in Show Low is 112-pound freshman, Ben Lee. The younger brother of two of the Longhorns' finest wrestlers, Zack and Nate Lee, the frosh is 27-11 this season.

In the 171-pound division, Kevin Bryant Bryant has been a pleasant surprise building a 20-7 record.

Payson also has solid entries in Jed Ward (103; 23-12), Joey Spear (125; 20-23) and Ryan Cox (135; 26-20).

Before the team departs for Show Low, a trio of wrestle-off will be held to determine entries.

In the119-pound class, Jacob Cluff (15-12) and Ryan Abraham (10-4) will tussle. Gunner Bauer (4-14) is set to meet Gage Conway (11-14) in the 145-pound class and Clint Godac (4-8) and Nick Walker (10-4) will battle in the 189-pound division.

The top four individual finishers in each weight division of the East tournament will advance to the Class 3A State championships to be held Feb. 8 and 9 at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.

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