Payson High wrestling coach Casey Woodall is not letting the lack of a single returning state placer curb his enthusiasm for his current team.
“I feel that we have several kids who have put in a lot of work over the off-season and are much better than they were last year,” he said. “I’m excited because I feel that we will be overlooked and hopefully can surprise some people.”
Although the team does not have veteran state placers, there are several returnees including Dallin Macnab, Conner Anderson, Anselmo Vasquez and William McCrary, who were within one round last season of earning a state medal.
Anderson, Woodall said, “has really stepped up for his senior campaign.
“His work ethic, attitude, demeanor and wrestling are all greatly improved.
“I am really excited to see that translate onto the mat this year.”
Macnab was a gym rat over the off-season and when not there, he was competing in USA Wrestling matches.
“He probably got in 60-plus matches at various events and was in the weight room five days a week,” said Woodall.
McCrary, the coach says, was equally dedicated. “He also put in a ton of work in the off-season.”
The coach also lauds senior Kyle Brown, who in football was one of the Longhorns’ steadiest performers on both sides of the ball.
“His transformation has been truly incredible to watch,” said Woodall. “He walked into the (wrestling) room two years ago unable to do a single pull-up and now is one of the strongest kids in school.
“He just outworks people — it’s fun to see.”
Cody Shepherd, Trevor Anderson, Clint Denny and Tate Sweeny also return to the Longhorn lineup with invaluable experience from last year.
When preseason drills began, about 40 students turned out for the team. Currently about 30 remain on the roster, but Woodall is confident the team will be able to fill all weight classes — a feat the team came up short of accomplishing last year.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a full lineup,” Woodall said. “Obviously injuries and (in) eligibility could impact this.”
What has hurt the Longhorn cause for the upcoming season is the defection of student athletes in the upper weight divisions — a malady that many prep teams suffer.
“We had a few big kids quit, which really hurt the team,” said Woodall.
Where the team has plenty of candidates is between the 126- to 145-pound classes, which has also created some difficulties.
“It’s tough when you have so many good wrestlers stuck between three and four weight classes,” Woodall said.
During preseason training, the coaching staff has focused mostly on fundamentals and conditioning with a goal of, “getting the kids to do everything they do the right way with a (good) attitude every time,” Woodall said. “The boys have responded well.”
Of course, in wrestling, attitude and work ethic are keys to success and early season indications are that the individuals out for the team are dedicated and passionate.
“I genuinely feel that all of our kids have bought into our philosophy,” said Woodall. “They are working hard to get better and are hungry for success.”
The coach is equally sure the wrestlers will represent the town and school well off the mat. “Every kid in our program is a good kid who I feel confident will represent our program in a positive light.”
While Woodall is quick to praise his student athletes, he also doles out plenty of laurels to his assistants — Dave LaMotte, Zach Lee, Rocky Beery and Lee Perez.
“I am the envy of coaches all over the state for having these guys to work with every day.”
As for season highlights, Woodall points to the Payson Invitational on Jan. 18 and 19, 2013 as an outing to which players and coaches are looking forward.
“We will have 24 teams from a wide variety of divisions and it should make for some great wrestling,” Woodall said. “We are trying to grow the tournament and I think we are doing a good job.”
In the battle for state laurels, Woodall points to two-time defending state champion Thunderbird as the team to beat, but believes Mingus and Moon Valley could also make a run at the title.
With the season opener set for tomorrow, Nov. 21 at Coronado High in Scottsdale, Woodall has his sights set on “establishing a program this community can be proud of again. I would love to see people in the stands.”
The first home opportunity fans will have to see the Horns in action is Nov. 28 in a three-way match against Campo Verde and Saguaro. Match time is 5 p.m. It will be preceded by a junior varsity match an hour earlier.