Mojave senior Dai’jon Payno could hardly bear watching his teammates compete in wrestling meets during the regular season when he was forced to sit out a month because of injuries to his left shoulder and right knee.
“It was very difficult to watch,” Payno said. “Some nights I cried about it. Some nights I stressed about not helping my team win. The second I was able to get back on the mat and I was ready, I went 100 percent every match since.”
Since returning in January, Payno has been a force for the Rattlers, and that trend continued Saturday in the Division I-A Southern Region meet at Spring Valley.
Payno, who entered the tournament with a 17-0 record, captured his first region title with a 7-6 decision over Faith Lutheran’s Cameron Cox at 195 pounds and helped the Rattlers walk away with a team title.
Mojave finished with 212 points to win its first region championship since 2008. Boulder City was second with 177, followed by Virgin Valley (159), Spring Valley (153) and Faith Lutheran (152½).
“It’s a great feeling today,” Payno said. “The last time our team did this was 2007 or 2008. And to come back and do this as a team, it’s a blessing.”
First-year Mojave coach Brad Burton believed his team would contend. The Rattlers had 13 returning lettermen, but even his expectations were shattered.
“I thought we’d be in the running for it,” Burton said. “We finished seventh last year and anything would have been an improvement. But with that many returners, I knew we’d be in the mix. … The kids are talking about the resurrection of the program since nothing has really happened since 2008. It’s all them.”
The Rattlers had eight wrestlers qualify for next week’s state meet. Payno — who went 5-0 in the tournament with four pins — and junior Don Phillips (220 pounds) each won a title, and Tariq Banks placed second at 170 pounds.
Phillips won a 3-0 decision over Western’s Adan Gutierrez in the final.
“Man, I feel amazing,” Phillips said. “All that hard work has paid off. … I’m expecting a team state title (next week) and for everybody to get at least first or second.”
Micah Harris-Bright (138), Tyler Williams (152) and Mario Shelton-Poindexter (160) each placed third for Mojave, and teammates Dominic Mota (106) and Christian Collins (132) took fourth.
“It was a total team effort all the way through the lineup,” said Burton, who began at Mojave as an assistant coach in 2011. “It feels awesome, but I can’t take all the credit. The head coach before that I worked with was (Gabe) Gledhill. I just got to take over the reigns.”
Zane Dennington (113) and Tyler-James Rushworth (138) won titles to lead Boulder City.
Virgin Valley had the most first-place finishers of any school. Ty Smith (106), Jacob Baird (120) and Cache Burnside (182) each won a championship match by pin, and Cresent Crandall (152) won a 6-5 decision for the Bulldogs.
Other region champions were: Clark’s Stefan McLin (160) and Mervyn Penniston-John (285); Faith Lutheran’s Peter Enos (132) and Connor Bourne (170); Spring Valley’s Tyler Nishi-Rivera (126); and Western’s Luis Lopez (145).
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson