Payson Wrestling Invitational gives ‘little guys’ a chance

The Payson Invitational can’t be compared to the prestigious Flowing Wells Invitational that is considered by most to be the best regular-season high school wrestling event in the state.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be.

This year, 37 teams showed up at Flowing Wells High School from Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.

But the Payson event, which drew 21 teams this year, would also like to be considered one of the ‘must-attend’ tournaments in the state in years to come.  Payson High School’s wrestling coach, Casey Woodall, has taken the tournament over this year and is intent on building it into something special.

But what it offers right now is something special.

The tournament’s all-comers format made it possible for tiny Camp Verde High School to compete head-to-head last week with some of the largest wrestling programs in the state – and take home a third place trophy.

Chandler High School was the tournament team champion and Highland High in Gilbert was runner-up.  Both are 5A-I schools, with enrollments three or four times the size of Camp Verde’s student body.

Chandler posted 399 points for the title, while Highland compiled 381.5, and Camp Verde scored a very competitive 307.

Williams Field HS, another 5A school, was fourth (254), but then a couple of 3A schools finished in the next two spots, as Blue Ridge HS (221) took fifth and Show Low HS (221) was sixth.

There were teams from metro Phoenix and others from the southern part of the state and as far away as Yuma and Tuba City.  There was one from an Indian Reservation in northern Arizona and another that made the trek from Durango, Colo.

All were given the chance to match up with programs they would never meet in the course of the regular season or during playoffs.  Competition involved teams of all school-size classifications.

Highland came away with four individual titles, as Chad Done won at 125 pounds and his brother, Curt, took the 130-pound title.  Christian Allen was the 171-pound champ and Colton Oliver took the mat immediately after Allen’s win to claim the fourth individual title at 189.

Chandler turned out three individual champions, including its most celebrated wrestler, Dalton Brady.  The amazing sophomore, the only freshman last year to win a state title in 5A (at 103 pounds), entered the Payson event with a 28-0 record and took the title at 112.

One of Brady’s most impressive wins this year was over Trey Andrews, the two-time state champion from Safford High School, who was the only wrestler to beat him last year, when Brady finished 39-1..

Brady was joined in the Payson victories by teammates Daniel Savage, who won at 160, and Jose Venegas, the 215-pound champion.

Camp Verde and Queen Creek HS each had two individual champions.

The Cowboys secured their titles in dramatic fashion, with pins in both weight classes, Michael Casillas at 103 pounds and Roman Bux at 135.  And Queen Creek’s Kolton Lock won at 145 pounds and Airam Moreno took the 152 title.

And the host Longhorns settled for a ninth-place finish with 192.5 points and one championship, as Ben Lee took the title at 140 pounds.