A fifth-place showing in the East Region tournament wasn’t what first-year PHS wrestling coach Travis Kopenhafer was hoping for.
But the Longhorns did produce two individual weight-class champions at the finals held Feb. 6-7 at Round Valley High School in Eagar-Springerville.
Junior Ben Sandoval won the 135-pound title and senior Nick Goodman crowned his four-year career by taking the 152-pound championship.
Sandoval’s win came as no surprise to Kopenhafer who predicted before the tournament, his charge would emerge victorious.
“He’s dominated our region thus far and I am looking for him to dominate the tournament,” he said.
The coach also was confident Goodman would wrestle well, “I expect him to finish first in the region.”
With the East wins, Sandoval wrapped up the regular season 43-4 and Goodman finished 38-7.
Also for Payson, freshman Jake Spear finished second in the 103-pound battles losing to Round Valley’s Colton Merrill in the championship round.
Merrill was later named the outstanding wrestler in the lower weight classes.
In the hotly contested 125-pound class, PHS sophomore Ben Lee has been red-hot all season long, but had to settle for the East silver medal after losing to defending state champion Ricky Ryan of Show Low.
Joey Spear entered the 140-pound class fresh from recovering from a series of injuries and having wrestled just nine matches this season.
But he managed to finish fourth in a weight class dominated by Round Valley senior Colton Mortenson.
Also finishing fourth was Payson’s
Derek Williams in the 160-pound class.
Williams (26-23) came on strong at the end of the season showing especially well in the Tim Van Horn Invitational.
Blue Ridge’s Cole Nelson, who is 54-0, won the 160-pound title.
Kopenhafer was hoping 215-pound Bryan Burke would win the weight class title with a second consecutive win over Blue Ridge’s Steel Armstrong. But Burke lost by a fall and the BR grappler went on to win one of the three outstanding wrestler awards.
Burke finished the regular season 33-2 and having won the Van Horn Memorial Tournament Outstanding Wrestler award.
If there was a pleasant surprise for the Horns in the tournament it was the showing of heavyweight Garrett McNeeley. The senior wrestled his way to the championship finals before losing to Snowflake’s Chris Pacheco.
The Longhorns entered the tournament a long shot to win all the marbles, mostly because the team had to forfeit four weight classes.
Payson did not earn regional points in the 112-, 119-, 125-, 130-, 145-, 171- and 189-pound weight divisions.
The team fray turned into one of the most closely contested finals in recent memory with Show Low (190.5) edging Blue Ridge (189.5) by one point for the title.
With 175 points, Round Valley was third and Snowflake took fourth, posting 159.5 points.
The top four finishers in each weight class will advance to the 3A state tournament when it is held Feb. 12-14 in Prescott. Which means, Payson will send Jake Spear, Joey Spear, Lee, Sandoval, Goodman, Williams, Burke and McNeeley to state.