By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The top amateur athletes in the state have a bit of the Hi-Line in them.
Former Havre High standout and University of Washington women's basketball player Loree Payne and Montana State University-Northern wrestler Emmett Willson of Shepherd were named this year's Montana AAU Little Sullivan Award winners Saturday night in Helena.
The award, modeled after the Sullivan Award given nationally by the Amateur Athletic Union to the top male and female athlete, is based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism.
Both Payne and Willson more than fit the requirements.
Widely considered to be one of the finest girls basketball players ever to take the hardwood in Montana, Payne capped a solid collegiate career this season by leading the Huskies to the NCAA women's tournament for the third time in as many years.
During four years at UW, Payne scored more than 1,200 points and ranks fifth on the Huskies' all-time scoring list. She was named to the PAC-10 all-conference team as a freshman and also holds Washington's record for most three-pointers made and attempted in a career as well as the most three-pointers made in a game.
Besides her accomplishments on the court, Payne holds a 3.7 GPA in psychology and was named to the PAC-10 all-academic team for three straight seasons.
Payne, along with teammates Giuliana and Gianconda Mendiola, Nicole Castro and Erica Schelly, were instrumental in saving the life of teammate Kayla Burt after her heart stopped beating on New Year's Eve this year.
Willson was simply the most dominant wrestler in the NAIA this year. He won his second straight NAIA wrestling championship at 197 pounds this spring in Great Falls and was named the meet's outstanding wrestler. This season he finished with a record of 46-3 with all three of his losses coming to NCAA Division I opponents.
Only a junior, Willson is considered to be one of the top college wrestlers at 197 pounds regardless of classification and will return to Northern next season to attempt to three-peat as champion.
''It is nice to be recognized,'' said Willson, who also was nominated in 2002. ''There are great athletes from all over the state so it is really an honor.''
The softspoken Willson will be joined by his younger brother, Emory, on the Lights wrestling team next season. He is majoring in education at Northern.