The good news coming out of Longhorn wrestling team practices is that the squad has a full roster — 103 to 275 pounds — prompting hope there will be no weight class forfeitures this season.
If that occurs, it would be a marked improved over last season when the Longhorns often forfeited four matches, and in the state team tournament could not field wrestlers in six weight classes.
Against Holbrook in the opening round of the state tournament, Payson forfeited six matches and 36 points in a 59-23 loss.
Although PHS tied the Roadrunners 23-23 in matches wrestled, the forfeits spelled doom for the Horns.
Set to lead the wrestling team this season are a trio of seniors — Ben Sandoval, Joey Spear and Derek Williams — who experienced varying degrees of success last year.
Sandoval was third at state, wrestling in the 135-pound class. This season, he’ll move up to 140 pounds where he is a region and state title contender.
“Ben is picked to win it (state) this year, and has already received interest for continuing his career in college at Adams State and Hastings,” said Longhorn coach Travis Koppenhafer.
Although Spear and Williams qualified for state in 2009, neither placed in the big show.
“They are looking to improve,” Koppenhafer said.
Also set to lead the Longhorn victory parade is junior Ben Lee, a 130-pounder who was a state runner-up as a sophomore.
“He’s back and packing a heavy punch,” Koppenhafer said.
Lee might have a bit of extra motivation in that his older brother, Zach, has this season joined the Longhorn coaching staff.
Zach was a two-time state champion and high school All-American at PHS before moving on to Western State College in Colorado.
There, he won collegiate All-American honors twice, placing both eighth and sixth in the nation.
In the 112-pound class for PHS this year, sophomore Jacob Spear will don a singlet after wrestling at 103 last season when he was fourth at state.
At 125 pounds, Joey Garcia is itching to make a mark, mostly because he was injured most of 2008-2009.
“He’ll be looking to place in his first state tournament,” Koppenhafer said.
Also in the 125-pound class, or possibly 130 pounds, junior Colt Ludtke is battling for varsity mat time.
“He got more matches (55) this summer than any other wrestler on the team,” said Koppenhafer. “He made big gains in the off season.”
Also in the mix in the very crowded 125-130-pound divisions is Jacob Cluff, a state qualifier last season.
Oddly enough, the newcomer in the Horn fold is a senior. Nick Johnson has never wrestled in high school but is battling freshman Conner Anderson and junior Hilton Macnab for the 152-pound starting slot.
Koppenhafer calls Johnson, “a tremendous athlete who is as strong as an ox.”
In the 103-pound class, Matt Schreur is showing promise.
“Matt spent all summer going to camp and training with the high school to get ready for his freshman campaign,” Koppenhafer said.
Gunner Goodman, another freshman, could get the starting nod at 119 pounds.
If the frosh suffers a cut this season, he might bleed purple and gold. His father was a four-year starting quarterback for the Longhorns in the mid-1980s, and he has two older brothers who were star wrestlers for the Horns.
The Longhorn roster also features a brother act in first-year wrestlers Matt (171) and Tim (103) Phillips.
“They are a couple of tough Tonto Basin boys who are excited about the upcoming year,” Koppenhafer said.
Matt is a senior and Tim is a freshman.
At 145 pounds, Keith Williams could be the starter, partly because he showed his potential last year when he was third at the Arizona All-Freshman tournament. Also in the mix for varsity match time are Ivan Mares (125) and Anselmo Vazquez (189).
Freshman Llyas Sekandari and junior J.B. Thornhill are contending for heavyweight (275) starting honors.
Thornhill continues to recover from a wrist injury incurred during the football season.
Joining Koppenhofer and Zach Lee on the coaching staff is Bob Hoyt, who worked in prep wrestling for several years under former head coach Dennis Pirch.
“Bob has been in this program for a long time, and he brings a great intensity to our workouts,” Koppenhafer said.
The younger members of the team will tip off their season tomorrow, Nov. 28, in a junior varsity tournament that will begin about 9:30 a.m. and continue most of the day in Wilson Dome.
The varsity season begins Dec. 4 when the team travels to the Rio Rancho Duals in New Mexico for a two-day tournament.