Longhorn wrestlers Zach Lee, Nate Lee and Larry Wilbanks wrestled their way to 8-0 records and weight-class championships at the Dave Work Memorial Invitational held Jan. 3 and 4 in Mingus.
For his efforts, Zach Lee -- a 152-pound senior -- was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.
Zach's younger brother, Nate, a sophomore, captured the 171-pound title. Wilbanks grappled to the 160-pound crown.
In the championship rounds held at the conclusion of the tournament, Zach decisioned his Desert Vista opponent 5-1 and Nate took a 5-2 victory over a Canyon del Oro foe. Wilbanks won his crown with a 14-1 thumping of a Chandler Hamilton wrestler.
The Payson trio's victories at Mingus keep their 2002-2003 records unblemished at 25-0.
In addition to winning crowns at Mingus, the three have racked up other accolades this season.
Zach and Nate began the season as defending regional and state champions. At the Mesa Westwood Warrior Classic, the two earned spots on the all-tournament team after compiling 8-0 records. In the Rim Country Duals, they again finished with 8-0 slates and weight-division titles. Zach earned the fastest pin of the tournament (5 seconds) citation and was named MVW in the upper weight divisions.
Also, Zach's wins this season have extended his unbeaten streak to 73 consecutive matches.
The pressures of maintaining the two-year streak might rattle other young athletes, but not Zach.
"I just go out and try to wrestle the best I can," he said. "I can't think about (the winning streak) when I'm wrestling."
Wilbanks began the campaign as a regional runner-up and state silver medalist.
In both the Warrior Classic and the Rim Duals, he was 8-0 and captured his weight-division championship.
Their triumphs this season have branded the three teens among the best wrestlers in the state, including those in the 4A and 5A ranks.
In addition to the championship showings of the big three, the Horns received runner-up contributions from Matt McCarty and George Coleman.
McCarty finished with a 6-2 record in the 140-pound division. In the 215-pound competition, Coleman was 7-1. His only loss was a 7-3 decision in the championship round to defending 5A state champion Bryan DiPalermo of Tucson Canyon del Oro.
At the Warrior Classic, DiPalermo had a much easier time defeating Coleman 14-5 in the championship round.
Coach Dave LaMotte praised Coleman for his improvement during the two matches.
"He wrestled great --ad a good tournament in a tough weight class," he said.
At 189 pounds, Bryce River also represented Payson well at Mingus. Stringing together a 7-2 slate, he wrestled to a third-place finish in a highly competitive weight class.
River can tack that bronze-medal showing onto a second-place finish at the Warrior Classic and a gold-medal effort in the Rim Duals.
Payson's final Dave Work Memorial medal was earned by 130-pound Shane Hounshell who finished fifth with a 4-4 slate.
The supporting cast
In the lighter weights, the Horns were without the services of Brad Wilembrecht. He and his family were involved in an automobile accident north of Phoenix on Christmas Day.
In early season, Wilembrecht was the varsity 119-pound starter. Although the teen was sidelined for the Mingus tournament with a variety of injuries, he could return to practice late this week.
Other wrestlers who represented PHS in the tournament were Tyler Goodman, 103 pounds, 3-2; David Cluff, 119 pounds, 0-6; Lee Perez, 125 pounds, 2-6; Andy Sanders, 135 pounds, 1-7; Josh Blalock, 145 pounds, 2-6; and Sammy Perez, 175 pounds, 1-6.
The efforts of the entire lineup led the Longhorns to a 3-2 duals mark and a fourth-place finish in the field of mostly Class 4A and 5A schools.
Payson opened the tournament with wins over Yuma Kofa (39-33), Prescott (65-15) and Chandler Hamilton (41-24).
In their final two matches, Payson lost to 5A second-ranked Mesa Red Mountain (48-18) and 4A fifth-ranked Mingus (37-34).
In the nine-team field, seven teams were ranked in the top 5 in Arizona.
Los Almos, N.M., also entered a commendable squad.
The Longhorns return to regular season action at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in Eagar/ Springerville against the homestanding Round Valley Elks.
A much-anticipated highlight of this season will be the Tim Van Horn Memorial Tournament, Friday, Jan. 17 and Saturday, Jan. 18 in Wilson Dome and old PHS gymnasium.
Start times will be announced next week.