A pair of former Longhorn wrestling stars will lead the NCAA Division II sixth-ranked Western State College of Colorado team into 2006-2007 season action.
Larry Wilbanks will compete in the 165-pound class and Zach Lee in the 157-pound division. Both were national tournament qualifiers last season. During the past campaign, Lee posted a 19-9 record with five wins by falls. Wilbanks compiled 30-10 credentials also with five wins by falls.
Only two other wrestlers on the Western State team recorded more falls than Lee and Wilbanks.
Last season, as a red-shirt freshman, Wilbanks was the lone Mountaineer wrestler to win a weight class championship in the NCAA Western championships held in Gunnison, Colo.
Battling in the 165-pound division, Wilbanks grappled to a 13-1 major division over Fort Hays State University wrestler Phil Hart in the championship round.
For his exploits, Wilbanks was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.
Also for Western State, Lee advanced to the NCAA championship round but was defeated.
Western opens the 2006-2007 season Nov. 9 with the annual Crimson and Slate Dual inter-squad match.
The team travels Nov. 11 to Laramie, Wyo. for the Cowboy Open.
During the upcoming season, Wilbanks, Lee and their teammates' travels will take them to Las Vegas, Nev., Oklahoma City, Okla., Cedar Falls, Iowa and Kearney, Neb. for matches.
From PHS to Western State
Longhorn fans will remember Wilbanks' ascension to a Western State wrestling scholarship as a tale of a dedicated teen who considered the wrestling mat a second home.
As a 160-pound senior in 2004, he won the Grand Canyon region weight class title, the Class 4A state championship and finished with an impressive 52-0 mark. At the conclusion of the year, he was selected to participate in the Arizona Coaches Association Red vs. Blue All-Star match. His opponent was Class 5A weight class champs Alex Pavlenco of Tempe.
The highly acclaimed Pavlenco, who was undefeated and the recipient of an Arizona State University scholarship, was the more heralded of the two.
In the practice days leading up to the clash, Wilbanks refused to be impressed by the big city media attention and the favorite role directed Pavlenco's way.
Some Valley-area fans touted Pavlenco as a much more superior wrestler than the Payson star.
What occurred at the all-star match was the stuff of which legends are made.
With the score deadlocked 1-1 and less than two seconds on the clock, Wilbanks perfectly executed a shoot move and a takedown to earn two match winning points.
With the 3-1 victory, Wilbanks walked off the mat armed with bragging rights as the finest 160-pound wrestler in Arizona.
Weeks later, he traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for the Senior National Championships. Although he wrestled well, Wilbanks dropped two very close decisions.
As a 160-pound junior, Wilbanks finished 44-1 and won both the East region and 3A conference championships. His one loss was a 4-3 decision in double overtime to a Tempe High grappler.
During Wilbanks' sophomore year, he compiled a 38-8 mark in the 135-pound division. He also won the East region crown and was a state runner-up.
As a 112-pound freshman, Wilbanks claimed the East championship and battled to sixth place at the state tournament.
Three-time state champ
As a senior at PHS in 2003, Zach Lee (152 pounds) was named to the All-Arizona Wrestling team, which included athletes from all schools, sizes 1A to 5A.
He was only Class 3A athlete chosen to the all-star team -- a team traditionally dominated by athletes from "big schools" in Phoenix and Tucson.
During his stellar four-year career at PHS, Lee compiled a 151-10 record, was a three-time state champion and widely acknowledged as one of the finest wrestlers to come out of the storied Longhorn program.
In the summer of 2003 in Casa Grande, Lee participated in his final high school match as a member of the Arizona Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star team. Participating on the Red Star squad, Lee chalked up a 16-3 major decision over Morenci's Chad Cordell.
Following that win, Lee accepted a wrestling scholarship at Western State.