Wrestlers Settle For Runners-Up

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The Longhorn wrestling team's bid to win its 11th state championship in the past 23 years has come up just short.

Saturday evening in Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Horns finished as 3A state runners-up behind longtime East region rival and defending state champion Show Low.

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Action was fast and furious in this state match that featured Payson's Brad Wilembrecht.

Throughout the tournament, Show Low rode the scoring of nine medal winners (top-six finishers) to an event-high 195 points. Although Payson produced the most individual weight class champions (four), the Horns' 182.5 points wasn't enough to overcome Show Low's superior roster depth.

Blue Ridge finished third (131.5), Camp Verde (122.5) was fourth and Safford (108.5) staked claim to fifth.

All season, Payson coach Dave LaMotte predicted that the state tournament would turn into a two-way battle between the Longhorns and the Cougars.

The coach also said the victor might be the team that received tournament points from their less-heralded wrestlers.

When the Cougars -- who produced three individual state champs -- had several wrestlers battle back through the consolation bracket to post the all-important team points, LaMotte's predication turned almost a prophecy.

Payson's effort in the tournament was buoyed by weight-class champions Zach Lee (152), Larry Wilbanks (160), Nate Lee (171) and George Coleman (215).

For the undefeated Lee brothers, the championships were their second successive.

All four Payson state champions took to the 3A tournament No. 1 seeds after winning East regional championship a week earlier in Show Low.

As seniors, Zach Lee and Coleman will graduate this spring. Nate Lee and Wilbanks will return to the Longhorn fold next season.

Although the Horns will settle for a state silver medal, the team did earn both the 2002-2003 East regular season and tournament championships.

Many of the wrestlers will now turn their attention to the spring and summer USA Wrestling campaign. It is there that the storied Longhorn program has produced and trained most of its finest wrestlers.

The senior members of the squad will await the voting of the Arizona Coaches Association to see if they are selected to participate in the annual North vs. South All-Star match that will be held later this spring.

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