For the third successive year, the Longhorn wrestling team grappled its way to a third place finish in the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament.
The team, under the tutelage of first year coach Travis Kofepnhafter, also finished third at the Rim Country Duals held Dec. 19 and 20 in Wilson Dome.
In the Van Horn, contested Jan. 23 and 24 also in Wilson Dome, the Horns (277 points) claimed the bronze trailing only runner-up Gilbert Highland (316) and meet champion Queen Creek (329).
In all, 14 state teams of all school size classifications including two teams from the Northern Arizona reservations and four from the valley area, competed in the mat shoot out.
The Longhorns emerged from the fray with two weight class champions — Ben Lee and Bryan Burke.
Lee won the 127-pound title and Burke took the 217-pound crown.
In the finales held Saturday evening, Lee decisioned a Coolidge athlete, 9-1, to win his weight class title.
Burke won 16-3 over a Gilbert Highland foe.
The Longhorns also had three other chances to win gold medals but individual efforts, as good as they were, came up a bit short.
In the 137-pound division, Ben Sandoval shined throughout the tournament before losing a hard fought 5-2 decision to Highland’s Ben Mabry in the finals.
Mabry is the son of former United States Air Force Academy Coach Dan Mabry who was a three-time state champion while attending phoenix Alhambra High School.
He wrestled at the AFA and then returned as a coach.
The elder Maby is no stranger to Payson having been a part of several local mat clinics including the 2004 Sunkist camp.
Although Sandoval was very much the equal of his heralded opponent, he will not have to face him to become a state champion because the Highland wrestler competes in the 5A conference and Sandoval in 3A.
The Horns had another chance for a gold in the 154-pound finals before Nick Goodman was pinned by Mountain Ridge John Kessler.
In the 162-pound finals, Derek Williams lost by a fall to a Highland foe.
Also for the Longhorns, 105-pound freshman Jake Spear often battled foes older and more experienced than he but managed a third place showing.
His brother Joey, who was wearing a mask to protect a split lip and a brace to shield a healing broken arm, tangled his way to third place honors.
Payson’s Garrett McNeeley, competing in heavyweight class, also was third.
Tournament director Don Heizer called the tournament an overwhelming success that yielded some highly competitive matches both individually and as teams.
The Longhorns will now prepare for a Feb. 4 multiple meet in Mingus and the East regional championships set for Feb. 6 and 5 in Eagar-Springerville.