Members of the Longhorn wrestling team include (back row, left to right) Nick Goodman, Gunner Bauer, Bryan Burke, Keith Williams, assistant coach Joe Harris, (front row, left to right) Ben Sandoval, Ben Lee, Jacob Spear and Jacob Cluff. Not pictured are Joey Spear, Derek Williams, Joey Garcia, Garret McNeeley and head coach Travis Kopenhafer.
Holbrook’s 11 state placers in 14 prep wrestling weight divisions will be a formidable state tournament first round foe for the Payson Longhorns.
“It should be a heck of a dual,” predicts PHS first-year head coach Travis Kopenhafer.
The two mat rivals go toe-to-toe at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Feb. 21, in Wilson Dome.
The Longhorns counter the Roadrunners’ deep roster with five state placers led by 152-pound champion Nick Goodman (42-7).
Others who medaled at the 3A state individual championships held Feb. 13 and 14 in Prescott Valley are Bryan Burke, Ben Sandoval, Ben Lee and Jacob Spear.
Burke was second in the 215-pound class and Lee was the runner-up among the 125-pounders.
Sandoval took third in a highly competitive 135-pound division and Spear was fourth in the 104-pound division.
Tomorrow’s state fray pits the state’s top eight teams against one another in one final wrestling showdown. While the “big school” 4A and 5A conferences have held team tournaments in the past, tomorrow’s shoot-out will be a first in the 3A ranks.
The tournament will feature matches in all 14 weight divisions, but the Longhorns will probably have to forfeit four classes (112, 119, 130 and 171) due to lack of entrants.
In addition to the Horns having five state placers on hand to battle Holbrook, the team has in its arsenal Joey Spear (140) Gunner Bauer (145), Derek Williams (160) and Garret McNeeley (heavyweight).
The five did not place in the state individual tournament, but have been important PHS cogs all season long.
The lack of entrants in four weight classes hasn’t diminished the enthusiasm Kopenhafer has for his team.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these young men,” he said. “To accomplish what they did with a depleted team and a new coach is a testament to their maturity and desire to win.”
During state’s first round, Goodman will be paired against Roadrunner James Lerna (19-7) who was fourth in last week’s individual state tournament.
Sandoval might have the toughest assignment of the day going up against state runner-up Markos Serna (26-2).
“This match will be a battle between the (state) third- and second-place finishers,” Kopenhafer said.
Sandoval has drawn praise from Kopenhafer for his decision to remain in the rugged 135-pound division.
“Ben probably could have gone up to 140 or down to 130 and won a state title, but he chose to wrestle in what was the toughest weight at the tournament,” he said. “He wanted to wrestle the best and I am proud of his decision.”
Most impressive about Sandoval is that after he lost to eventual state champion, Jon Casas of Safford, he regrouped and battled back through the consolation bracket to take third.
“He came back to win two straight matches,” Kopenhafer said.
Another clash that is sure to draw the attention of fans, coaches and athletes is the 103-pound division where freshman Jacob Spear will take on Holbrook’s Ruben Serna, the state runner-up.
“Jacob lost a controversial match in the semifinals to Serna, which would have put him in the finals,” said Kopenhafer. “He’ll get a revenge match.”
In the 125-pound battle, state runner-up Ben Lee (42-6) will be pitted against the Roadrunners’ R.J. Alverado, a state sixth-place finisher with a 21-12 record.
Burke, who has lost only this year to Blue Ridge state champion Steel Armstrong, will take on Holbrook’s Tyrell Sulu, a state fifth-place finisher with a 21-4 mark.
In last week’s tournament, Burke decisioned Sulu 5-0.
The PHS senior will be wrestling in his first match since losing a 5-3 overtime heartbreaker to Armstrong in the state weight class finals.
“Bryan is a leader on our team and a great Longhorn,” Kopenhafer said.
Among the unknowns in tomorrow’s mat fray will be the 140-pound clash where Joey Spear will take on Holbrook’s Josh Hatch, a North Region runner-up who failed to place at state.
Bauer will take on Roadrunner, David Hatch, a state sixth-place finisher with a 15-20 record.
In the 160-pound class, Williams must find away to get past Holbrook’s Scott Tofoya (11-7).
State wrestling schedule
Weigh-ins 8 a.m.
• First round at 9:30 a.m. on four mats
• No. 1 Safford vs. No. 8 Round Valley
• No. 4 Show Low vs. No. 5 Winslow
• No. 3 Blue Ridge vs. No. 6 Parker
• No. 2 Holbrook vs. No. 7 Payson
• Semifinals at 11:30 a.m. on two mats
• Championship at 2:30 p.m. on one mat
Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for students.
Those tickets allow holders to have all-day access to the tournament, coming and going as they see fit.
A $5 ticket, good for a one-time admission, is also available.
PHS season passes are not accepted because the tournament is an AIA event.