Payson was one of the smallest schools entered the Mesa Red Mountain Nate Johnson Memorial.
But that didn’t stop the Longhorns from demonstrating the 9-1 record they carried into the 16-team event was legitimate.
PHS went toe-to-toe with some of the biggest schools in the state and didn’t back down against any of them. The Division III Horns finished 6-3 in the Dec. 13-14 tournament.
Payson’s victims included Division I schools Avondale Westview (42-24), Goodyear Millennium (46-15), Phoenix North (57-12) and Scottsdale Chaparral (39-23).
The Longhorns even scored a satisfying win against Division II’s Buckeye Verrado (37-24), the team PHS finished second to at the Camp Verde Tournament despite beating them. The other victory was a 54-6 waltz past Division IV Globe.
Former Arizona State head coach Tommy Ortiz is coaching at Chaparral, which finished third.
Division II Tolleson beat Payson 46-30 in the first of seven duals (team contests) in Pool B. PHS won its next four duals the first day and its final two duals in pool action on Saturday morning to stand at 6-1 entering the single-elimination bracket portion of the tournament.
Payson tied Division II Goodyear Desert Edge 36-36 but lost on the second tiebreaker — most wins. The Longhorns had six and Desert Edge, which wound up fourth, had seven. Both teams would have had seven victories if Steve Perry had been able to wrestle for Payson at 285 pounds. However, he missed the final day of the tournament to take his ACT college entrance exam. That forced a double forfeit at heavyweight.
That sent Payson to the consolation bracket, where Division II Tempe Marcos de Niza beat the Horns 42-27.
“We just matched up really bad with them,” said Payson coach Zach Lee.
Payson wound up finishing sixth. Tolleson went 8-1 and finished second, losing to Red Mountain 54-15 in the championship match.
“There were definitely a couple of duals that were tight and we could have won,” Lee said. “We could have ended the weekend 7-2 or little better.
“There were definitely a lot of big schools and a lot tougher competition than we saw the week before (at Camp Verde).
“We’re getting better and making improvements. But it’s still hard to walk away sixth when we could wrestle with some of the top schools at that tournament.
“We were right there with the team that took third and beat the team that took fourth. But the kids definitely wrestled well, especially on Saturday morning. Beating Chaparral was a pretty big win for the team.”
Lee hailed the Longhorns’ 15-4 record, but he said he, his staff and his wrestlers want to keep getting better.
“The kids wrestled well,” he said, “but we’re never satisfied with good enough. Being 15-4 is definitely a positive thing. We have some kids doing some really good things. But we can’t be content with the success we’ve been having.”
After a three-week break, PHS will carry a 15-4 record into its next action, which will be another challenge. The Longhorns compete in the 32-team Mile High Challenge in Prescott Valley on Jan. 3-4.
“That’s a huge tournament and a quality tournament,” Lee said. “If the kids place at this tournament, they will have done something right, for sure.”
The coach said going against the kind of strong teams that will be there, as well as those at Red Mountain, can only help his wrestlers.
“Seeing this kind of competition definitely makes a difference when we wrestle in our division,” Lee said. “They’ve wrestled the big tough schools and that’s going to give them confidence when we wrestle teams our size.
“Wrestling’s a little different than football. With a solid team you can compete with a big school on an individual basis.”
Dallin Macnab went 8-1 at 132 pounds to improve to 19-2. His only loss came against Verrado’s Bryce Stumfoll, whom he’d beaten the previous week in winning the Camp Verde Tournament title.