Although several Payson wrestlers shined at the Dave Work Memorial Tournament at Mingus in Cottonwood, at least three wrestlers who quit the team, Derek Williams’ illness that had him sidelined and a fractured hand that has ended heavyweight J.B. Thornhill’s season, hampered the Longhorn cause.
Without those individuals in the line-up, coach Travis Koppenhafer took only eight wrestlers, in 14 weight classes, to the prestigious mat fray contested Dec. 29 and 30 at Mingus High School.
Of the Payson contingent, five placed in the top three of their respective weight divisions and one grappler, 125-pound junior Jacob Cluff, won an individual championship.
“That was his first title in any tournament,” Koppenhafer said. “Last year, he was a part-time starter and struggling in the line-up.”
His metamorphosis into a top-notch wrestler might have occurred during the off-season.
“Jacob made every practice over the summer and attended both our team camp in Alamosa, Colo. and our intensive camp in Payson,” Koppenhafer said. “His dedication paid off with his impressive tournament championship at Mingus.”
The coach is predicting Cluff “has turned the corner and is going to make a heck of a run at the state tournament.”
Cluff advanced to the championship round at the Dave Work Memorial by pinning Central High School’s Minifield in the semi-finals.
In the championship finale, Cluff won an 8-0 decision over Mesquite’s Morton.
Also for Payson, Jacob Spear and Ben Lee wrestled their way to silver medal finishes.
Jacob Spear lost an 8-4 decision to Parker’s Escoto in the finals. Lee was decisioned, 5-3, in the gold medal round to Mesquite’s McElveen.
In the 135-pound competition, Joey Spear was third, after losing in the opening round and then ripping of five consecutive wins. In the battle for the bronze medal, Joey Spear avenged his first-round loss by pinning the Chandler Hamilton wrestler who had earlier defeated him, Koppenhafer said.
Senior Ben Sandoval, who has been sidelined much of the season with a serious infection, returned to the line-up at Mingus to finish third in the 140-pound division.
Sandoval’s loss was 4-2 to Mesquite’s highly regarded Mark Hammel in the semifinals.
In the bronze medal clash, he pinned Chandler Hamilton’s Dawes in 3:56.
“Ben has had only two weeks of practice, and for him to take third at a tournament of this caliber is amazing,” Koppenhafer said.
Sandoval could have another shot at Hammel on Jan. 22 and 23 at the Payson Invitational. Hammel is ranked in the top 20 in the nation and reportedly has accepted a wrestling scholarship to the University of Wyoming.
Also representing Payson at Mingus were Matt Schruer (119), Keith Williams (145) and Connor Anderson (152).
Although the Payson squad was shorthanded at Mingus, Koppenhafer returned to the Rim Country satisfied with the effort, “overall we wrestled very well.”
Most of the teams entered were from the 4A and 5A “big school ranks.”
Payson and Parker were the only two 3A teams entered.