Zach Lee was a two-time state wrestling champion at Payson High, who also helped the Longhorns win the 2000 Class 3A team title.
He went on to become a four-time national qualifier and two-time All-American at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo. He was the head assistant wrestling coach at NAIA Jamestown (N.D.) College for one season (2008) before returning to Payson in 2009 and becoming the varsity head assistant coach. He’s been in the role for four years.
He is now taking over as the varsity head coach for Casey Woodall, who stepped down after two seasons as head coach to become the head coach at Morenci.
Lee said he was comfortable in his role as the assistant coach, but is ready to move into the role as the head of the program.
“I’ve always liked being the assistant, but it’s fun to be the head coach, I guess; change things up a little bit,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity, an exciting opportunity.”
He also helped coach middle school wrestlers since his return to Payson. So he said his familiarity with the kids should make the transition easier for both he and them.
“I’ve known most of these kids since they were barely walking,” he said. “So it’s kind of the same thing as usual. It’s not a real change to the program.”
Payson High athletic director Don Heizer said the Longhorns have the right man leading program.
“Coach Lee is a product of two excellent wrestling programs coming from the Payson program and moving to the program at Western State to compete at the college level,” Heizer said. “His commitment to excellence is unquestioned by any who have worked with him as a wrestler and a coach.
“He gives this year’s team an opportunity to grow and reach the next level in their progression as young men and wrestlers. Coach Lee has been with the program as an assistant for several years and I am confident he is ready to lead the team in the Longhorn tradition.”
Lee, 28, was 151-10 in four years on Payson’s varsity team. He won his final 95 matches, claiming state crowns his junior and senior seasons. He was 48-0 in winning the 152-pound 3A championship in 2003 as a senior.
He finished fourth as a freshman and second as a sophomore.
Lee closed out his prep career as the only 3A member of Red All-Stars in the Arizona Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Match at Casa Grande in 2003, where he beat Morenci’s Chad Cordell 16-3. Athletes from larger Class 4A and 5A schools usually dominated those all-star team rosters.
After that win, Lee was named to the All-Arizona Wrestling First Team.
Lee was part of a long run of wrestling success by the Longhorns’ program. He said he hopes to keep Payson’s streak of producing at least one individual state champion every year since 1991 alive.
Lee said a lot of what he learned comes from former Payson varsity head coach Dave LaMotte, who’ll serve as his assistant.
LaMotte started in the Payson wrestling program as an assistant to program founder Dennis Pirch in the late 1990s and took over as head coach when Pirch retired in 2001. He resigned in 2003 and moved, but returned to PHS in 2006 and took over as head coach again for Rich Ormond, who resigned after the birth of his third child. But LaMotte resigned before the 2007-08 season to help care for his son, Jeff, who was battling a serious liver ailment.
“What I learned from him I will try to use as head coach,” he said. “That’s just that wrestling is not all about the sport. It’s building character for a lot of these kids. And a lot of life experience, not just wrestling experience.”
But, the expectations will be high when the kids hit the mat.
“We run a pretty hard-nosed program, as well,” Lee said. “It’s not for the faint of heart, for sure.”