Payson High School senior Conner Anderson has joined his dad, Eric, as the only father and son duo inscribed on a Longhorn state championship plaque hanging on the honor wall just outside the Wilson Dome wrestling practice room.
Eric, now Dr. Anderson, a local dentist, won his wrestling weight class championship in 1987-88 and Conner wrestled his way to the 160-pound title Feb. 8 and 9 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
In grappling to the title, Conner finished with a 4-0 record that included two pins and a pair of victories by decisions.
Conner, who finished second at the sectional tournament last week and was 38-7 during the regular season, opened pursuit of state gold with a win by a fall over Spencer Goodwin of Chino Valley. In the second round, Conner pinned Sabino’s Bryson Echols.
The twin wins propelled the PHS senior into the semifinals against Winslow’s highly regarded Jace Hardy. The Bulldog, however, was no match for the Horn standout falling 10-6. Following the match, Hardy went on to finish third with a 9-1 major decision over Echols.
With the “W” vs. Hardy, Anderson advanced the state championship finale that played out before a packed house at the Toyota Center. In a hard-fought, toe-to-toe tussle, Anderson muscled his way to the state crown defeating, by a 7-4 decision, Andrew Capirchio, a senior at Fountain Hills.
Conner was the only PHS wrestler to win a state weight class title among the eight who qualified with top four finishes at the Section III tournament.
The points Conner earned helped lift the Horns to a seventh place finish among D-III’s 42 schools.
Payson’s 66 points was just one point behind sixth place Moon Valley and only 16 less than fifth place Campo Verde.
While the red-hot battle for second through ninth place was a decided by only 26 points, powerful Thunderbird ran away with the team title amassing a whopping 132.5 points.
Entering the state showdown, the Horns appeared to be capable of a top-three state finish, but the PHS cause was dampened on opening day when a tournament official disqualified William McCrary (126) for a skin condition and state title favorite Dallin Macnab (120) was upset in the opening round.
McCrary (34-10) entered the finals as the Section III champ and among those expected to vie for the state weight division title
McCrary was also a solid choice to beat Adonai Romero (19-12) of Cortez in the first round, but the PHS senior never had the chance to compete after being disqualified on a highly controversial decision that had some of the Payson fans fuming.
One fan in the audience called McCrary’s disqualification “insane” while another defended the tournament official saying he was doing what he thought best for all the qualifiers.
Reportedly, McCrary presented to officials statements from local doctors saying the condition was not contagious nor could it be transmitted.
Most disappointing for McCrary and his followers is that he will graduate this spring and not have another shot at winning a state gold medal.
Macnab, a Section III champion, had the misfortune in the first round of drawing Desert Edge’s Zach Sobarzo (45-7) who entered the postseason as one of the state’s finest lightweight wrestlers.
After Sobarzo defeated Macnab by a 14-4 major decision, he went on to advance to the state title match before losing, 8-5 to Coconino’s Gabe Galaviz.
Macnab righted himself after the disappointing loss to win four matches and finish fifth with an 11-1 major decision over Zachary Sanchez of Campo Verde.
Also for Payson, Anselmo Vasquez (30-9) a 220-pound section champion, wrestled his way to a fourth place finish.
Vasquez pinned Sahuarita’s Joe Jenkins in the opening round, but then lost by a fall to Davion Grey of Monument Valley.
Following the loss, Vasquez won on three consecutive pins, but was decisioned, 9-4 by Austin Kirk of Youngker in the battle for third place.
Kyle Brown (170) also took an S-III championship seed to state and easily won the first round pinning Tempe’s Ibsa Gerado.
In the second round, however, Brown dropped a 12-3 major decision to Coconino’s Jerome Crowther.
Relegated to the consolation bracket, Brown was eliminated from the tournament by a 13-8 loss to Thunderbird’s Robbie Massey.
Tate Sweeny (145) rode a 22-23 record and a dark horse role to state and in the first round upset favored Clinton Butler of Empire on a 17-1 technical fall.
Sweeny was sent to the consolation bracket after being pinned in the second round by Rio Rico’s Mark Lopez, who had lost only once during the season and eventually won the state weight-class championship.
In consolation action, Sweeny was sent packing by a gut-wrenching 4-3 loss to Isaac Aguilar of Estrella Foothills.
In the 138-pound mat battles, Payson was represented by sophomore Chase Elmer who was pinned in the first round by Show Low’s John Clark and then ousted by a 5-1 loss to Karl Halstead of Verrado.
Trevor Anderson, 13-10, as a sophomore, advanced to state as a fourth seed among a talented group of 132-pounders. In the opening round, Anderson was pinned by Campo Verde’s Parker Hawk.
The young Anderson roared back in the lower bracket to decision Safford’s Chance Rios, 4-2, but then was eliminated after being pinned by Shondlin Czsoek of Empire.
With the regular season at an end, the PHS underclassmen will turn their attention to the all-important off-season program that includes weight training, practice sessions, conditioning and USA Wrestling competition.
Coach Casey Woodall has since his arrival at PHS pointed to the off-season program as a key to building a successful program.