Payson Wrestlers Dream Of Winning The Gold At State Tournament

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Standing tall on the gold medal victory stand at the state championship tournament is the dream and goal of most every teen who turns out for the storied Longhorn wrestling program.

They harbor those aspirations because most grew up cheering for some of the Horns finest state champs including Eric Anderson, Danny Rackley, Blair River, R.C. LaHaye, Bryan Ross and others.

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A Blue Ridge Yellow Jacket wrestler finds himself in a difficult situation while wrestling Payson's Isaac Cluff during the East championship tournament.

For today's group of wrestlers, emulating what their predecessors accomplished -- winning a state championship -- begins today, Friday, at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.

The tournament will pit the top-four wrestlers from the four regions -- North, East West and South -- against one another.

Payson will send representatives in 10 weight classes including six wrestlers who advanced with advantageous East runner-up seeds.

They include Ben Lee (112), Jacob Cluff (119), Ben Sandoval (130), Isaac Cluff (140), Mark McCarty (152) and Bryan Burke (215).

For Lee, only a freshman, winning a state title in his first year in the PHS program will probably mean having to defeat Safford's Ronnie Gutierrez (19-7).

As a sophomore, Gutierrez is one of the favorites to win the 3A crown.

Jacob Cluff's stiffest competition might come from Show Low's Ricky Ryan who is 50-2. In the East championships last week in Show Low, Ryan pinned Cluff early in the match.

For Sandoval, the path to a title travels through Safford's John Casas (43-2) who is the South region champion. West champion Anthony Corenel (59-9) of River Valley is also a contender.

Isaac Cluff, a West Point bound senior, will likely have to beat North region champion Markos Serna (38-2), of Holbrook, to become a state champ.

Also in the weight class, Florence's Eric Dunton (38-5) will battle for honors. In the 152-pound division, McCarty must find a way to get past Safford's Brian Henager (23-5). Chino Valley's Matt DelCerro (35-6) and Kyle Pratt (37-13) of Show Low will also be tough foes for McCarty.

Although Blue Ridge's Steel Armstrong has only a 6-0 record, he might be the wrestler Burke must upset to nail down a 3A title.

Burke lost to Armstrong in the East championship match.

Action in the tournament wraps up tomorrow, Saturday, with the crowning of the individual weight class gold medalists and the overall team champion.

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