Lahaye Ends Season As Republic's Small School Wrestler Of The Year

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In the rich and storied 28-year history of the nationally ranked Payson High School wrestling program, there have been rosters of athletes who've grappled their way to prep mat fame.

But none ever reached the pinnacle of success recently attained by R.C. LaHaye.

The 18-year-old Payson High School senior capped his sterling four-year career Sunday by being named the Arizona Republic's "Small School (Class 1A to 3A) Wrestler of the Year."

Being chosen the state's best, "came as a surprise," LaHaye said. "I really didn't even know that they gave it. But it's a big honor."

Also, the Phoenix newspaper tapped him for the second year to the All-Arizona First Team in the 140-pound weight division. LaHaye was the only Class 3A athlete selected to the first team.

Most often, first team state honors are afforded to 4A and 5A athletes representing high school in Tucson and Phoenix.

In addition to the Republic laurels, LaHaye was named to the Arizona Wrestling Coaches Association's All-Arizona squad. That honor was doled out at the conclusion of the Red vs. Blue All-Star competition held Feb. 24 at Case Grande High School.

In the celestial clash, LaHaye proved larger schools don't necessarily turn out the more accomplished athletes by whipping Class 4A state champion Max Vickers of Mingus, 5-3. In the victory, LaHaye strung together two take-downs and an escape to chalk up the points needed.

The win was particularly grueling in that the Rim country grappler was giving up several pounds to the 4A champ who entered the match with an impressive 54-1 record.

"In the all-star (tournament) you don't (have to) make weight," LaHaye said. "He had about 13 pounds on me."

The victory over Vickers extended LaHaye's winning streak to 112 consecutive triumphs and pushed his prep career record to a eye-popping 180-9.

On the way to the state record 180 triumphs, the teenager has earned three consecutive regional, a trio of state titles and 10 most valuable wrestler tournament awards.

Among the most cherished of the MVW awards, he said, are the two he won at the PHS-hosted Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament.

Of his nine career losses, six were suffered during his freshman year when he was a slight 112-pound rookie, paired most times against older and stronger opponents.

The last time LaHaye lost a high school match was early in his sophomore season to a Santa Cruz athlete.

Payson High School assistant wrestling coach Dave LaMotte, who has tutored LaHaye much of his career, remembers that loss well.

"That (defeat) kind of put a spark in him," the coach said. "He became really dedicated after that."

Payson High School head coach Dennis Pirch identifies the ingredient that separates LaHaye from ordinary athletes: tenacity.

With LaHaye's prep career now at an end, the youngster has his sights set on continuing his athlete endeavors in college.

Several schools have shown interest including Adams State and Western State University in Colorado.

The schools, Pirch and LaMotte agree, both sport good wrestling programs that could provide the environment to take LaHaye to the next level.

The Rim country wrestler is scheduled for campus visits to Adams and Western after he competes in the Rocky Mountain National Tournament to be held March 16 and 17 in Denver.

Also on his agenda this spring is the National High School Wrestling Coaches Association Senior Nationals to be contested the first week of April in Newark, Delaware.

LaHaye joins former PHS state champs Jeff LaMotte, Curtice Smith and Christopher Pirch as the only Longhorns to earn an invitation to the prestigious national match.

The tournament "is quite an event," coach LaMotte said. "Only (each state's) champions are there."

The event, LaHaye said, will provide him with the opportunity to prove his abilities on the national level.

In addition to his accomplishments on the mat, LaHaye has been an award-winning member of the Longhorn football team and maintains a B-plus average in the classroom.

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