A stretch of 21 days without competition should have the Longhorn wrestlers well rested when the 2013 portion of the season kicks off Jan. 10 in a dual meet at Williams Field High School in Chandler.
The last time the Horns were in action was Dec. 19 at Tempe High School where PHS ran roughshod, 40-23, over the homestanding Buffalos and buried the Coolidge Bears 68-5.
Earlier this season, the Longhorns defeated Paradise Valley 66-18, Combs 49-27, Coronado 67-21, Poston Butte 57-18 and Campo Verde 45-31.
About the only time the Horns haven’t dominated was Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Asics Southwest Duals at Grand Canyon University that drew some of the finest wrestlers and teams from the western U.S.
The Horns’ strong early season harkens back to the days when PHS won five consecutive state championships and Payson was considered the small-town wrestling capital of America.
Since coach Casey Woodall arrived on the PHS scene three years ago, he’s worked diligently to rebuild the Longhorn legacy and it now appears he’s well on his way to doing so.
The coach, however, is quick to credit the team’s success 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.”
While the grapplers will undoubtedly be rested and prepared when they return to action at Williams Field, the heat of competition will be almost instantly turned up several notches.
Just a day after traveling to Williams Field, a Division II school, the Horns will be in Tucson for two days competing in the Catalina Invitational.
Then on Jan. 16, the Horns play host to a longtime rival, Show Low. The rivalry between the two foes can be traced back to the 1970s when Dennis Pirch was building the Longhorns into a dynasty and Cougar coach Dick Lopeman had Show Low on a roll.
Longtime Longhorn fans know well that when Payson locks horns with Show Low, the competition turns fierce and sparks fly.
Following the dual match, it will be out of the frying pan and into the fire as the Horns play host Jan. 18 and 19 to the Payson Invitational.
“We 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.”
Although Payson opened the season Nov. 21 at Scottsdale Coronado without a single returning state placer in the lineup, several wrestlers have stepped up since with standout performances.
Early on, Woodall praised returnees Dallin Macnab, Conner Anderson, Anselmo Vasquez and William McCrary, saying they had put in the off-season work necessary to be successful.
In particular, the coach singled out Anderson saying, “His work ethic, attitude, demeanor and wrestling are all greatly improved.”
Senior Kyle Brown also drew plaudits from Woodall, “He just outworks people, and it’s fun to see.”
McCrary, the coach said, “put in a ton of work in the off-season.”
As the season wore on, the veterans continued to improve and younger wrestlers stepped up.
Following the wins over Combs and Paradise Valley, Woodall praised his rookies saying, “For some of the freshmen to step up and get points is a big deal for us… it bodes well for the future and shows how hard these kids are working.”
Cayse Berry (107), Tanner Dendy (113) and Gabe Hernandez (121) are among the freshman workhorses the coach praised.
Dakota Harold (153) was on the receiving end of plenty of appreciation following the Horns’ win over Combs. In it, he battled back from a deficit to win an 8-3 decision that set the stage for the PHS victory.
“Dakota showed a lot of heart out there,” said Woodall. “I was very proud of him.”
Following Harold’s victory, Conner Anderson and Brown pinned their opponents to nail down the win over the Division II foe.
In the Horns’ most recent outing, at Tempe High, Brown (171) was a one-man wrecking crew, pinning both his opponents.
“He was on a mission,” said Woodall.
Vasquez (220) was equally as focused, winning both his matches on pins.
Also, Tate Sweeny (146) was victorious on a technical fall vs. Coolidge, and survived a 10-6 decision against Tempe.
His decision over the Buffalo foe was particular impressive because Sweeney has lost three weeks earlier on the technical fall to the Tempe grappler.
In the 139-pound division, sophomore Chase Elmer showed well in the three-way meet, winning 11-4 over a Coolidge wrestler that had placed last season in the state tournament.
The addition of heavyweight Stephen Tubbs, a goalie of the Longhorns’ state final-four soccer team, has helped buoy Payson this year in a weight class that had been tough to fill the past several seasons.
“He’s been a nice pick-up at heavyweight,” said Woodall.
Jake Ames has also helped fortify the weight divisions, competing in the hard-to-fill 196-pound class.
At the onset of the season, the coach said he was “cautiously optimistic” the team would be able to fill all 14 weight classes and not have to offer up any forfeits.
The 182-pound division, however, has been a bugaboo to fill. Most of the season, the Horns have had to forfeit the weight class.