A pair of former Payson High School star wrestlers have led Grand Canyon University to the finest win in the four-year history of its wrestling program.
R.C. LaHaye, now the GCU head coach and also the wrestling team founder, hooked up with first-year assistant coach Larry Wilbanks to pace the Antelopes to a 24-18 victory over defending Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion and No. 6-ranked Western State of Colorado.
The win, as thrilling as it must have been for the two coaches, was also a little bittersweet.
Both are alumni of Western State and remain among the most heralded and well-regarded athletes in the school’s sports history.
“It was a little strange for both of us to be competing against Western, but it was a thrill because they are so highly ranked,” Wilbanks said.
The impressive win was chalked up Dec. 15 in Antelope gym.
The previous evening, GCU defeated the No. 2-ranked NAIA team, California Baptist University, stamping proof that the two former PHS grapplers are turning the Antelopes into a wrestling power.
LaHaye founded the team three years ago and coached it through an often rough growing period in which he had a tough time filling all the weight divisions.
Wilbanks joined him as an assistant coach last season after graduating from Western.
“I work with the bigger weights and I have a lot of fun,” Wilbanks said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
At Western, Wilbanks was a four-year letter winner who eventually won more than 100 matches and in 2009 earned a berth in the NCAA Division II Winter Nationals Championship Festival.
While attending PHS, Wilbanks was 52-0 as a senior, 44-1 as a junior and 38-8 as a sophomore. He won state championships his final two years at PHS and was a state runner-up as a sophomore.
He also starred in football as a wide receiver and defensive back.
In 2004-2005, LaHaye was chosen by Western State College of Colorado head coach Miles Van Hee to be the wrestler to grace the front of the Mountaineer’s schedule.
A three-time NCAA Division II All-American for Western State, LaHaye also was the team captain.
At PHS LaHaye was one of the finest wrestlers to ever pass through the storied Longhorn program. He finished with a 130-9 record and was a contender for most valuable wrestler at just about every prep tournament in which he competed. After winning three state championships at PHS, he accepted a scholarship to Western State.