Wrestling Showcased In College Matchup

Grand Canyon University takes on Western State College of Colorado Nov. 28

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A pair of the finest wrestlers to ever don Longhorn singlets will soon return to Wilson Dome.

But during this appearance, the two won't be wearing the purple and gold they wore in high school, but rather the crimson and slate of the Western State College of Colorado they now represent.

Zack Lee, Larry Wilbanks and their WSCC teammates will visit the dome Nov. 28 to take on Grand Canyon University in a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference clash.

The match begins at 6 p.m. and will be preceded at 3:30 p.m. by the Longhorn's regular season opener against Fountain Hills.

The WSCC vs. GCU showdown will also mark the coaching debut of former PHS mat great R.C. LaHaye, who helped found the Antelope program last spring.

"It (the match) will have a Payson flavor to it," said former PHS coach Dennis Pirch, who coached Lee, Wilbanks and LaHaye during their high school heydays.

Larry Wilbanks

Wilbanks, a 174-pound junior at Western State, will enter the match fresh off an appearance in the University of Wyoming Cowboy Open.

In the Division I mat scramble, Wilbanks finished fourth in the Elite bracket after losing to Chadron's Willy Jones in the opener. Wilbanks went on to win five straight matches in the consolation bracket -- including two consecutive pins.

In the regular season opening Crimson vs. Slate dual scrimmage on the campus of Western State, Wilbanks won by a technical fall over Clayton Weaver.

The former Longhorn sports a 57-22 collegiate record and is a two-time All-American and region champion. As a first year red shirt, he was named the RMAC freshman of the year and finished with a 30-10 record, including five falls.

Last season, he finished 27-12, despite competing with a knee injury that eventually required surgery.

At the onset of this season, he was the top individual vote getter in a preseason poll that picked the All-RMAC team.

"He's an unorthodox wrestler and he's hard to score on," WSCC coach Mile Van Hee said.

"He always finds a way to win."

At Payson High School, he was a two-time state champion who was 52-0 as a senior and 44-1 his junior year. Wilbanks also won four consecutive region titles.

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 and the Class 4A state championship. At the conclusion of the year, he was selected to participate in the prestigious Arizona Coaches Association Red vs. Blue All-Star match. His opponent was Class 5A weight class champ Alex Pavlenco of Tempe.

The highly acclaimed Pavlenco, who was undefeated and the recipient of an Arizona State University scholarship, was the much 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 superior wrestler when compared to the Payson star.

What occurred at the all-star match is 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 take down 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.

Today, Longhorn mat fans continue to relive tales of the day a small town wrestler smacked the bravado out of the one of the big cities' finest.

While at Payson High, Wilbanks also starred as a wide receiver and defensive back in football.

Zack Lee

Lee, a 165-pound senior at Western State, was a national qualifier and All-American last season. On his way to a 30-7 record, he finished third in the regional championships, and sixth at nationals.

During his collegiate career, he's forged a 72-24 record as is a three-time national qualifier. He was also All-American as a sophomore.

During his red-shirt freshman season, he went 23-8, with two falls. A year later, he was 19-9 with five falls.

This season, in the Crimson vs. Slate dual, he took a major decision over Skye Wells.

At the Cowboy open, he scored wins by a pin, major decision and decision before falling 3-0 to Nebraska's Stephen Dwyer. In the consolation semifinals, he forfeited.

Van Hee lauds Lee as "being very strong and powerful and he's been around the sport and understands it."

Among Lee's greatest accomplishments during his tenure at PHS was his naming as the 2002 Grand Canyon State Games' Top Male Athlete.

Lee received the prestigious award in the spring of that year at a GC Games luncheon held at Arizona State University's Wells Fargo Arena.

Lee was honored for his mat accomplishments during the five years he has participated in the GC Games.

Among his list of achievements was an undefeated record in each of the events in which he has participated. He was also designated a "Triple Crown" winner for wrestling to weight class championships in Greco-Roman, freestyle and folk-style events in two GC tournaments.

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