A three-day jaunt to Denver, Colo. left Longhorn wrestling coach Dave LaMotte sporting a smile that might be equaled only by a person just told he was clutching a winning lottery ticket.
What prompted the coach to be in such a jovial mood was the stellar performances of four wrestlers he took to a national amateur tournament that drew 2,913 grapplers from 40 states.
"We did unbelievably well in one of the best tournaments I've ever taken kids to," LaMotte said.
The privately-sponsored tournament, held at Denver's National Western Event Center, is one of a triple crown series held around the nation each spring.
The Payson teens who participated March 18 through March 22 were Nate Lee, Zack Lee, Larry Wilbanks and George Coleman. All were members of the PHS team last season and will return to the Horn fold next school year.
Nate, a freshman, won the championship of the 15-and-under, 157-pound competition. On his way to a 5-0 tournament record, Nate whipped Colorado's state champion.
The 18-years-and-under, 145-pound competition drew a whopping 84 topnotch wrestlers including Arizona's Class 3A state champion Zack Lee. Zack, 48-0 last season, strung together six tournament wins to win the age/ weight championship.
During his unbeaten tournament stint, he bested state champs from New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. A pair of those wins were nail-biters chalked up in overtime.
During the course of the prep season, Zack also went into OT several times before salvaging victory.
"He has a lot of heart, that's one of the reasons he can do that," LaMotte said.
Competing in the 18-years-and-under, 140-pound division, Wilbanks wrestled his way to a fourth-place finish with a 4-2 record. Among his victims was a two-time New Mexico state champion.
"One of the great things about this tournament that made it so prestigious was it had so many great wrestlers," LaMotte said. "Almost all of them were state champions or high (state) placers."
Finishing with a 3-2 record, Coleman came within one victory of advancing to the medal round of the 18-years-and-under, 215-pound competition.
Battling the nation's best young athletes in the tournament will help mold the four PHS wrestlers into even better competitors next season, LaMotte said.
The foursome, along with several other teenagers, are slated to continue training for future USA Freestyle and Greco-Roman spring and summer tournaments.
Most are held at Valley high schools, but a May 4 event will be contested in Wilson Dome.
Practice sessions for USA competitions which are open to elementary through high school-aged youngsters are held at 6 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday in Wilson Dome.
For more information, call LaMotte at 474-2233.