Payson High’s wrestling team opened the 2017 portion of its season with a nod to the past on Thursday night.
With the long travel times for schools in rural Arizona, dual matches have become rare in recent years. Most teams maximize their travel by competing in multiple-team matches.
But the Longhorns squared off with Division 4 powerhouse Winslow in a rare dual match in Wilson Dome that conjured up thoughts of Payson’s glory days.
And the Longhorns looked like some of those great teams of the past in a 50-24 domination.
First-year Payson head coach Bryan Burke hopes to return the Longhorns to prominence and the former PHS standout liked the atmosphere the dual match created on senior night as the wrestlers at each weight were introduced in the middle of the mat after Payson’s six seniors and their families were recognized.
“The dual was an awesome experience,” Burke said. “It kind of gave it an old-school feel.
“It’s a real cool opportunity with a lot of people, good crowd noise, good environment.”
The Longhorns struggled with numbers in the 2016 portion of the schedule. They regularly forfeited at multiple weights because they just didn’t have enough kids ready to take the mat.
But that doesn’t appear to be a problem anymore as the Longhorns sent wrestlers to the mat at all but one of the 14 weights.
And things couldn’t have gone much better.
Facing one of their biggest challenges of the season, the D3 Longhorns won seven of the first nine weights to take a commanding 38-6 lead and trounce a Winslow squad that finished second among the smallest schools in the state a year ago.
The performance is an indication of just how good the Longhorns can be when not forfeiting at several weights.
“If we can keep a full lineup and everybody stays on the mat and keeps showing up for practice, we’re going to be a very tough team to beat,” Burke said.
“I hope one thing our fundamental style of wrestling’s going to show is we’ve got kids with heart and kids who are going to bring the pressure and are not going to stop wrestling. That makes anybody dangerous in this sport. You get what you earn and our kids are showing we want to earn a little bit more.”
The highlight of the match came at 126 pounds, where Payson’s Dylan Keeney pinned Winslow‘s Quincy Foster. Foster finished second in the state at 126 as a junior a year ago. He entered the night unbeaten at 126 this season with his only loss coming at 132.
Keeney was one of the half-dozen Longhorn seniors honored before the action began.
He recorded one of five Payson pins. His freshman brother, Ely, got one right before him at 120. Jesus Alan Cerna (113), Chance Elmer (145) and Chris Johnson (160) produced the others.
Brendan Macnab won by a 16-0 technical fall at 132. Daniel Cluff won by decision at 152 and Ulises Vasquez (195) and Seth Allison (285) both won by forfeit.
Wrestlers are allowed an extra two pounds for each weight class starting Jan. 1. That helped the Longhorns send someone onto the mat for all but one of the weights.
Constant recruiting by Burke and his staff also helped fill out the roster.
“We’ve got a lot of guys wrestling tough and finishing matches and that’s a big thing,” Burke said.
“We’ve got some football kids that came out late — first-year kids that are finally showing that they’re ready for varsity experience,” Burke said. “We had a lot of these guys in the room all season, but up until lately we didn’t really feel we could put them on a varsity mat without getting somebody hurt. We’ve got a lot of guys that are just new and working hard and committing to the program and coming to practice every day and we’re ready to put them on the mat.”
The Longhorns didn’t see the Bulldogs at full strength. Three state medalists from a year ago, including defending 195-pound champion Ahil Foster, missed the match because of injury.
But senior Quentin Begody, who took third at 220 a year ago, did wrestle and got a pin at 220.
The six seniors honored were: Dylan Keeney, Kenny Ayres, Emerson Carr, Daniel Cluff, Brendan Macnab and Brooks Randall.
Keeney second at Mile High
Dylan Keeney is enjoying another standout season. He led the Longhorns in the Mile High Challenge held Jan. 2-3 at the Prescott Valley Event Center.
Keeney battled Safford’s Byron McKade Finch before falling 8-6 in the 126 title match.
He was one of six Longhorns to place in the tournament.
Brendan Macnab placed third at 132, Chance Elmer took third at 145, Brooks Randall finished fourth at 138, Chris Johnson placed fourth at 160 and Ely Keeney took sixth at 120, according to Burke.