The Payson Invitational championship team trophy, a slew of individual honors and big-time bragging rights are up for grabs today, Jan. 21, and tomorrow in Wilson Dome.
The 19 wrestling teams entered in the invitational are a diverse bunch coming from the northern Arizona reservation, others from the metropolitan Phoenix area, at least one from the southern most part of the state, another from Colorado and at least six small-town Arizona schools.
The diversity of the field is expected to result in a unique tournament in which grapplers will be given the opportunity to face others they might not meet in the course of a regular season.
For example, Gilbert Highland and Grey Hills are two of the teams entered.
Because Highland is a Division I Valley “big school” and Grey Hills is a Division IV reservation “small school,” wrestlers from the two might never cross paths.
But in the Payson Invitational, it is very likely grapplers from the two teams could go head-to-head, resulting in classic duels that linger in memories for decades to come.
Payson coach Casey Woodall, in his first year at the helm of the Longhorn program, is determined to turn the invitational into a much-anticipated affair that coaches will line up to enter.
“We are trying very hard to turn this into one of the premier wrestling events in Arizona,” said Woodall.
Tournament action began at 10 a.m. today, immediately after a coaches seeding meeting.
During the meeting, coaches seeded wrestlers in 14 weight classes, 103 pounds to heavyweight, based on their 2010-2011 record, place at the 2010 state championships and record compiled in the 2009-10 season.
The tournament format will be individual weight class pools to determine which wrestlers will advance to the final four-man bracket.
Round robin action in rounds 1 to 5 continues on four mats until 7 p.m. tonight.
Wrestling resumes with rounds 6 through 8 at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 22, and continues until noon.
From 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. cross-pool semifinals will be contested.
The semifinals will be followed from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. with consolation finals to determine third- through sixth-place weight class finishes.
The championship finals will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Team scoring will be on combined scores in both pool rounds and pacing rounds.
Following the tournament, medals will be awarded to the top four finishers in each weight division and tournament champion T-shirts will be given to each gold medalist.
Also, outstanding wrestler awards will be given in three weight divisions — light (103 to 125), middle (139-152) and heavy (160-275).
Team trophies will also be awarded.
Admission is $8 for an all-session pass or $5 for a one-day pass.
Throughout the tournament, the Payson Wrestling Boosters will host a concession stand and host a Saturday morning breakfast for participants. All funds earned will benefit the Longhorn wrestling program.
Teams entered include Queen Creek, Grey Hills, Camp Verde, Highland, Yuma, San Manuel, Coolidge, Florence, Show Low, Round Valley, Fountain Hills, North High, Globe, Blue Ridge, McClintock, Williams Field, Apache Junction, Chandler and host Payson.
Payson enters the invitational fresh off a trip to Colorado where the Horns competed in the prestigious Alamosa tournament. Before that, the team was in Wickenburg for the East vs. West Duals.
Among the Longhorns who could contend for PI individual honors are Ben Lee, Jacob Spear and Jacob Cluff.
In December at the Rio Rancho Invitational in New Mexico, both Lee and Spear racked up impressive 7-1 records competing against some of the finest wrestlers from a five-state area. Cluff was 6-2.
At the East West Duals, Lee and Cluff were 5-0 as was Conner Anderson. Spear finished 4-1.
Austin Armstead, Colton Ludtke, Tanner Savage, Zac Wilson, Gunner Bauer and Anderson could also be in contention to earn a PI medal.
Anslemo Vasquez and Tanner Purtill round out the Horn lineup.
If there is a bugaboo that might haunt the Horns in the invitational it concerns giving up forfeit points six at a time. Often this year, the mat men have forfeited the 103, 215 and heavyweight classes meaning they give up a whopping 18 points — a difficult obstacle to overcome.
Woodall was uncertain if there would be forfeits in the PI.
The Payson Invitational has its roots in the 1970s when former PHS coach Dennis Pirch founded it. In 1987 it was renamed the Tim Van Horn Memorial in memory of a longtime wrestling team booster killed in an out-of-state traffic accident.
Last year, former PHS coach Travis Koppenhafer decided to resume use of the original name of the tournament.
Whatever the name, the tournament has showcased some of Payson High’s finest wrestlers including Christopher Pirch, R.C. LaHaye, Matt McCarty, Larry Wilbanks, Zack Lee, Nate Lee and Porter Wilbanks.
Among the most memorable of the tournaments occurred in 2004 when the war for the championship turned into a furious scrap that would have made a junkyard dog proud.
After five rounds of toe-to-toe battles in pool action and the consolation showdown, both Payson and Marana Mountain View entered Saturday’s evening championships primed to make a run at the title.
Longtime fans remember Marana held a slim 347 to 319 lead over the Longhorns, but with five wrestlers in the individual weight class championships, Payson had a legitimate shot at overtaking the visitors.
The dreams of keeping the Van Horn hardware in the Rim Country vanished when most every Marana wrestler posted a victory in the finals.
Four of the five Longhorns in the gold-medal round recorded wins, but those feats didn’t earn Payson enough points to rally.
By outscoring Payson 23-21 in the championships, Marana scored a hard-fought 370-340 victory over the Horns.