One of the most dominant individual campaigns in Payson’s storied wrestling history highlighted the best year of Travis Christianson’s growing prep resumé.

And it made the junior The Roundup’s 2020-21 Male Athlete of the Year.

Christianson earned the honor over several other Longhorn standouts, led by seniors Trevor Cline (football, track), Soto Sellis (football, wrestling) and Hunter Lee (basketball, soccer, track) and junior Esgar Reyes (soccer), among others.

Coming off another standout football season, Christianson went right to the mat and stampeded to the Division 3 182-pound state championship.

His 21-0 record featured mostly pins. He claimed his second Div. 3 Section 2 championship to qualify for state for the second time.

He failed to qualify for state at 182 pounds as a freshman and qualified last year but didn’t make the medal stand at the same weight.

He finished off the perfect season by capturing just the second Payson individual state title in the last eight seasons and first since Dylan Keeney won in 2017.

The AIA canceled the winter sports seasons before changing course and allowing the seasons to go on a month later than normal, with restrictions such as no tournaments, one match per day limits and a mask requirement for all athletes.

Already faced with fewer matches, Christianson’s tendency to end matches early may have cost him lots of extra time on the mat throughout the season to get ready for his state run, but it didn’t matter. He continued to dominate in the state tournament.

“When you have a fast match you’re not used to going the full six minutes and then you get these quality opponents and it’s a dogfight for the full six minutes,” he said after winning the crown.

And wearing a mask on the mat was certainly challenging.

“It was tough at times, but you’ve got to do whatever you can to play the sport you want. I had a little trouble every now and then breathing, but it’s alright.”

He claimed Payson’s 66th individual state championship by pinning Coolidge sophomore Tyler Story in 12 seconds in the opening round, Prescott sophomore Cody Hanna in 1:47 in the quarterfinals and closed with a 10-3 decision over Safford junior Fernando Gonzales in the semifinals and a 5-0 triumph over Shadow Mountain sophomore Luke Isaak (15-1) under the spotlight in the title match.

He’ll get a chance this winter to become just the 14th Longhorn in the storied history of Payson wrestling to win multiple individual championships.

“I’m super proud of Travis,” said Payson wrestling coach David Daniels. “Travis is talented enough and athletic enough to beat anybody and he came out and did. He came out and did his job and did it well. He’s tough. He’s tough.”

He’s been focused on winning the title for many years.

“He’s been preparing since he was young, right, when you step in the wrestling room in fourth, fifth, sixth grade,” Daniels said. “And before that, his parents had him in jugitzu and this is why you do it. The goal is to always win a state championship, and hopefully two. He’s got another shot at it.”

The final match was his most challenging.

“That kid was tough,” his coach said. “Travis is just solid. He’s got really good position. He’s got really good balance and really good athleticism. It’s really, really hard to get Travis into a bad spot where you can score on him. He’s just so athletic and so coordinated with his body and stuff. He’s really hard to get out of position.”

Christianson credited practice partners Soto Sellis and Nick Dimbat with playing key roles in his championship season. Sellis’ only loss this season came in the 220 state title bout.

“The key was just wrestling hard every day with a good partner in Soto Sellis and Nick Dimbat,” Christianson said.

Football star

As good as he is on the wrestling mat, football is Christianson’s first love and he hopes to play the sport in college.

He said he would play linebacker or running back.

“I don’t have a favorite position, I just go out and play,” Christianson said.

“I would like to play football in college wherever I can get on the field.”

Listed at 6-foot 185 pounds on last season’s football roster, he should get plenty of offers to play at the next level.

He stood out in his third varsity campaign on the gridiron.

Christianson was voted to the All-3A Metro East First Team and honorable mention all-state at linebacker last season after earning Second Team All-3A East honors at linebacker as a sophomore in 2019. He was honorable mention All-3A East as a freshman linebacker in 2018.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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