Longhorn wrestlers enter tomorrow’s (Jan. 13) East vs. West Duals without the services of two athletes once counted on to provide plenty of team points.
Joey Garcia, the Horns’ entrant in the 119-point class, is lost for the season with a broken hand and Ben Sandoval, a 140-pound state title contender, re-aggravated a shoulder injury.
Coach Travis Koppenhafer said Sandoval’s injury will cause, “him to miss the next few weeks of competition.”
The loss of those two represents even more tough luck for a Horn team that filled only seven of 14 weight classes Jan. 6 at a multi-meet held at Heber Mogollon High School.
“Several of my guys were injured, sick or I held them out because of weight issues,” Koppenhafer said.
As depleted as the Longhorn roster is, those who did participate in Heber performed well, winning five of seven matches in duals against St. Johns and host Mogollon.
Against St. Johns, the defending 2A state champions, Payson built a 27-9 lead before forfeiting 42 points, which gave the Redskins the come-from-behind victory.
In the loss to Mogollon, Payson was leading 21-9 before forfeiting the seven weight classes and 42 points.
“Of course we lost both, but we had them on the ropes (before the forfeits),” Koppenhafer said. “We shocked them a little with our intensity in the top position.”
In the Payson contingent, Ben Lee (130), Matt Schruer (119) and Joey Spear (135) finished undefeated.
“They all looked impressive,” Koppenhafer said.
As tough as forfeits are for coaches, fans and wrestlers, they’ve been a fact of mat life for the Longhorns.
At the prestigious Dave Work Memorial Dec. 29 and 30, the Horns entered only eight weight classes, forfeiting six, after losing heavyweight J. B. Thornhill to a fractured hand and Derek Williams (160) to illness.
Best 3A teams visit
For the East West Duals, Payson will battle some of the state’s finest squads in a format that pits schools from the East Region against those from the West.
Representing the East will be Show Low, Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Round Valley and Payson.
From the West are River Valley, Chino Valley, Estrella Foothills, Parker and Wickenburg.
“The teams to watch from the West are Parker and Chino Valley,” said Koppenhafer.
When Parker and Payson clash, the 112-pound match should turn into a highlight film mostly because the two individuals battling, the Broncos’ Billy Escoto and the Horns’ Jacob Spear have a long history with one another.
“It will be a great match, they are six and six the past two years,” Koppenhafer said.
At the Dave Work Memorial, Jake Spear finished second overall, losing an 8-4 decision to Escoto after beating the Parker grappler earlier in the tournament.
Chino Valley also features a top-notch 112-pound wrestler to Kyle Lindahl who finished sixth in the state last season at 103 pounds.
“Between those two (Escoto and Lindahl), Jake will have his hands full,” Koppenhafer said.
For Payson, other top guns could be 125-pound Jacob Cluff and 135-pound Joey Spear.
Cluff is 9-0, undefeated against class 3A competition, and is coming off a weight class championship at the Dave Work Memorial.
Joey Spear is 17-3 and has beaten every 3A wrestler he has faced.
“We will be counting on them for big points,” Koppenhafer said.
For the Duals, weigh-ins are at noon and wrestling begins at 1 p.m. on four mats in Wilson Dome. There is no admission charge.
Van Horn now the Payson Invitational
Also on the Longhorn agenda is the Payson Invitational to be held Jan. 22 and 23 in Wilson Dome.
Fans might not recognize the name of the tournament because it hasn’t been called that since 1987 when it was renamed the Tim Van Horn Memorial in memory of a longtime wrestling team booster.
This year, Koppenhafer decided to resume use of the original name of the tournament from when former coach Dennis Pirch first founded it.
Koppenhafer is predicting the invitational, “will be a barnburner and much tougher than in past years.”
Among the teams scheduled to participate are 4A “big school” powers Mesquite, Queen Creek, Coconino, Highly and Durango, Colo.
Other schools entered include Blue Ridge, Coolidge, Tuba City, Williams Field and Apache Junction.
Individually at the invitational, Payson’s twin Bens — Sandoval and Lee — will have another shot at the Mesquite wrestlers who beat both of them at the Dave Work Memorial. Lee was decisioned 5-3 in the finale by Mesquite’s McElveen and Sandoval lost 4-2 to Mark Hammel in the quarterfinals. “Hammel was ranked as high as 20th in the nation last year so it should be a great battle,” Koppenhafer said.