A stirring, successful athletic career that began in a humid, sweaty Payson wrestling room has ended at the NCAA D-II National Championships at Upper Iowa University.
Former Longhorn great Zack Lee, now a senior at Western State College of Colorado, was eliminated after dropping two straight matches in the gold medal finals of the tournament contested March 14 and 15.
Wrestling in the 165-pound bracket, Lee opened the national showdown with a technical fall victory over Central Missouri's Jesse Sheets. In session 2, Lee fell 10-4 to North Carolina Pembroke's J.J. Davis. The former Horn's collegiate career ended after he dropped a 5-2 decision to Nebraska-Kearney's Keenan McCurdy.
Lee entered the national championships as the Mountaineers' top-ranked wrestler, the No. 1 seed in his D-II weight division and a NCAA Western Regional champion with a 21-4 record. Of his wins, three were by falls.
Lee is also a two-time All-American.
Last season as a junior at WSC, Lee compiled a 30-7 mark, was third at the regional tournament and sixth in the national championships.
As a sophomore, he went 19-9, had five falls and was a silver medalist at the regional tournament. During his redshirt freshman season, he was third at regionals and 23-8 with two falls.
Academically, Lee is majoring in business at Western State.
Lee's climb to collegiate wrestling success began as an elementary school student on the Wrestling USA circuit.
Later, as a student at Rim Country Middle School, Lee won a White Mountain League crown and finished sixth in the 104-pound division at the 1999 Arizona State Junior High Championships.
After graduating from RCMS, Lee turned in a stellar four-year wrestling stint at PHS.
He culminated his prep career in the spring of 2003 in Casa Grande. There, as a member of the Red Star squad in the Arizona Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star match, Lee chalked up a 16-3 major decision over Morenci's Chad Cordell.
Following that win, Lee was named to the prestigious All-Arizona Wrestling first team.
Lee was the only Class 3A athlete chosen to the all-star team -- a celestial squad that is traditionally dominated by athletes from 4A and 5A schools in Phoenix and Tucson.
At the 2003 Class 3A state tournament, then held at Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Lee dominated the 152-pound competition chalking up a 4-0 record. Three of his victories were on falls and the other, in the championship round, was a technical fall.
Lee's victory was his second consecutive state title. As a sophomore at state, he finished second and as a freshman, he was fourth.
During his tenure at Payson High, Lee compiled a 151-10 record that included a 95-match winning streak. His senior season, he was 48-0.
After graduating from Payson High, Lee accepted a wrestling scholarship to Western State College.
Lee is one of several former PHS wrestlers who have gone on to become standouts for WSC coach Miles Van Hee.
R.C. LaHaye, now the head wrestling coach at Grand Canyon University, once starred for the Mountaineers. Larry Wilbanks is now a junior at WSC wrestling in the 174-pound class.