A rugged field comprised of some of the finest wrestling teams in Arizona await the roster-depleted Payson Longhorns in the inaugural Division III, Section II postseason tournament.
The tournament, which replaces the region tournaments of past years, kicks off at 11:30 a.m. today, Friday, Feb. 4 in Wilson Dome.
Among the powerhouses in the 16-team field are Mingus Union, Blue Ridge, Show Low, Winslow, Tempe and Flagstaff Coconino. Scottsdale Coronado and Page could also contend for the crown.
The Horns probably don’t have the stallions in the corral to lasso the title mostly because the team will have to forfeit three, and possibly four, weight classes.
Payson does not have entries in the 103, 215 and heavyweight divisions and the status of the team’s 171-pounders is iffy.
“I went through two 171-pounders in one week,” said coach Casey Woodall. “It will be a tough road this weekend.”
One of the 171-pounders sidelined, Tanner Savage, might be able to compete.
“There is a small chance, but very unlikely,” said Woodall.
In addition to the Longhorns being slowed by injuries, the team will put on the mat several younger players who will be novices to postseason competition.
The fledglings include freshmen Dallin Macnab (112), Austin Armstead (119) and sophomores Kyle Brown (145), Conner Anderson (152) and Anselmo Vasquez (189).
While the presence of the underclassmen points to a bright future for the program, it’s tough for the younger players to go toe-to-toe against more mature and experienced foes.
Among the young crew Payson will call upon, Brown has caught the coach’s attention.
“He is a sophomore, but a first-year wrestler who has worked very hard to earn the varsity spot,” said Woodall.
In the tournament, all Payson eyes will be focused on state top-ranked 140-pound senior Ben Lee.
What’s intriguing is that at some point in the fray he will probably square off against a Mingus wrestler who is second ranked.
The much-anticipated skirmish could turn into the mother of all matches.
Lee enters the postseason fresh from winning the 140-pound gold at the Payson Invitational held Jan. 21-22.
In the pulsating weight division finale, he edged Chandler’s Curtis Buelna 2-1 to finish the tournament undefeated.
Lee was later named the outstanding wrestler in the middleweight classes.
Payson’s only other state-ranked grappler, Jacob Spear (125), holds down fifth place in Arizona’s individual ratings.
At the Payson Invitational, he was a third-place finisher.
Also for the Horns, senior Colton Ludtke is in the postseason lineup at 135 pounds after wrestling at 145 most of the season.
“He has looked really good since dropping,” said Woodall. “He was a tiny 145 for the majority of the year.”
Rounding out the Horn lineup is 130-pound Jacob Cluff and 160-pound Gunner Bauer, both seniors.
All wrestlers who finish first or second in the section tournament, and other sectionals being held at Greenway and Empire, will be placed into a six-man pool for state seeding.
The top five finishers will qualify, but not be included in the seeding.
The Division III or “state” tournament will be held Feb. 11 and 12 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
Wrestling today in the sectional tournament will continue until about 7 p.m. and resume at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Wrestling in the quarter, semi and consolation rounds is expected to wrap up tomorrow about 4 p.m. when Wilson Dome will be cleared of all spectators.
At 5 p.m. the dome will reopen and the championship rounds begin.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association has set admission prices as $6 for students and $8 for adults, each session.
All day passes are $12.