Payson High School Volleyball Star Earns College Scholarship

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One of the most accomplished players in the history of Payson High School volleyball is college bound.

Tori Wilbanks, 18, signed a scholarship letter of intent Feb. 24 in Phoenix to attend South Mountain College, where she will continue her volleyball career under Jaguar coach, Pat Mooney.

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Tori Wilbanks, 18, signed a scholarship letter of intent Feb. 24 in Phoenix to attend South Mountain College.

"I'm excited," Wilbanks said. "It's a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

The former Lady Horn star said she was originally interested in playing at Western State College in Colorado where her older brother, Larry, is a wrestling team member. But she changed her mind after being approached by Mooney.

"He saw me play in high school and then came (in February) to a (USA Volleyball) club tournament we were playing in Las Vegas," Wilbanks said.

"That's when I started talking to him (about attending South Mountain)."

In Las Vegas and the past club season, Wilbanks has been a member of the Valley-based Club Red team.

The previous year, she starred on the Payson Club Rim team that wrapped up the 2006 season last summer with an appearance in the Reno Volleyball Festival.

Wilbanks called that tournament her first exposure to big-time club volleyball.

"It was intense, but fun," she said.

At the recent Las Vegas tournament, the Club Red team finished 10-0, beating teams from around the country.

"It was so exciting there and so many really good players," Wilbanks said. "There were also (college) recruiters everywhere we went."

Also on the Club Red team with Wilbanks is her former high school teammate, Brooke Cannon -- the 3A East region's 2006 Player of the Year.

Cannon, who played setter most of her prep career, is also being wooed by South Mountain College.

"I hope she goes there, but if she gets a better offer someplace else, I'll be happy for her," Wilbanks said.

As a first-year member of the Club Red team, Wilbanks played both middle and outside hitter.

She, however, expects Mooney will ask her to man the outside position she played much of her three-year varsity career at PHS.

"Maybe I am at my best there," she said.

The former Lady Horn star also expects next year's Jaguar roster to include several players she's familiar with.

"I've heard some players will be from both Blue Ridge and Flagstaff," she said. "I know most of them, having played those schools the last three years."

At South Mountain, Wilbanks will major in physical therapy with a goal of someday earning a bachelor's degree in athletic training.

At PHS

As a member of the Lady Longhorn volleyball program, Wilbanks earned three varsity letters and was an All-East region, first-team selection both her junior and senior seasons.

She also earned spots on all-tournament teams in Payson and Chino Valley and was an All-Arizona honorable mention choice this past season.

She was slowed early in her senior season by an ankle injury, but returned in time to lead the Lady Horns to a share of the East region championship and a berth in the state tournament.

PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink lauded her all-around volleyball abilities at the conclusion of this past season.

"Not only was she an animal hitting, but she was also a dominate blocker and worked very hard to become a starting back row player and a solid passer," he said.

In addition to Wilbanks starring in volleyball, she was a standout basketball player her first three years at the school.

As a senior, she gave up the sport to play for the Club Red team.

"I thought if I wanted to earn a scholarship, I had to concentrate on one sport," she said. "And it worked out."

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